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Most Teachers Worry a Shooting Could Happen at Their School

After years of efforts by administrators and policymakers to improve school safety, a majority of teachers are at least somewhat concerned about a shooting occurring at their school, and 7 percent say they are “extremely” worried.

That’s according to a Pew Research Center Survey of 2,531 U.S. public K-12 teachers released April 11, in which respondents identified improved mental health screening for children and adults as the top strategy to prevent shootings.

The findings of the nationally representative survey, conducted from Oct. 17 to Nov. 14, 2023, come as the nation approaches the 25-year commemoration of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.—an event that changed conversations about school safety and helped fuel precautions like routine lockdown drills, which were conducted by 96 percent of public schools in the 2021-22 school year, according to the most recent federal data.

While mass school shootings are statistically rare events, their pace and scale have accelerated since the April 20, 1999 Columbine attack. Teachers’ responses demonstrate how much the fear of the worst-case scenario has shaped their experiences at work.

1. Teachers are concerned about a potential shooting at their school

Asked if they were concerned about a shooting occurring at their school, just 7 percent of respondents said “not at all.”

Educators, policymakers, and the public use varying criteria related to determine what is considered a school shooting; some limit their discussions to mass-casualty events that occur inside school buildings during school hours. But attacks at sporting events, during extracurricular activities, and in school parking lots can also create safety concerns, educators say.

There have been 10 school shootings in 2024 that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to an Education Week analysis. That count includes incidents during school-sponsored events and on school grounds, like a March 2 shooting outside of a high school basketball game in North Kansas City, Mo.

2. Many teachers say their schools could do more to prepare them for an active shooter

While a majority of respondents said their school has done at least a “good” job “providing them with the training and resources they need to deal with a potential active shooter in their school,” 39 percent said their school has done a “fair” or “poor job.”

Rural teachers were most likely to say their school had done an “excellent” or “very good” job preparing them, while teachers in urban schools were the least likely to agree with that statement.

While lawmakers’ calls to “harden schools” with physical security measures like metal detectors and armed school staff often get the most attention following a high-profile shooting, school safety experts have stressed prevention and preparing staff through procedures like basic lockdown drills.

3. Lockdowns disrupt school for students and teachers

While shootings are rare, the potential of a shooting causes regular disruptions for students and educators, who lock down classrooms as a precaution. Suspicious people near a school, reports of guns in classrooms, or threats can all prompt a lockdown.

Twenty-three percent of respondents to the Pew survey said their school went into lockdown at least once in the 2022-23 school year “because of a gun or suspicion of a gun on school property.” And 8 percent of teachers said their school had more than one gun-related lockdown.

Lockdowns were most common in high schools and in urban areas, teachers reported.

4. Teachers favor mental health support as a prevention strategy

Asked about a menu of strategies, respondents were most likely to say that “improving mental health screening and treatment for children and adults” would help prevent school shootings. Sixty-nine percent rated mental health as an “extremely” or “very” effective prevention strategy.

The survey did not specify who would be responsible for improved mental health supports. But many schools have sought to upgrade their counseling supports as they face a student mental health crisis. School-based mental health screenings have faced resistance from parents and policymakers concerned about student privacy, stigmatization, and possible civil rights violations if the results aren’t used properly.

Allowing teachers and administrators to carry guns was the least supported strategy, with just 13 percent of respondents agreeing it would be “extremely” or “very” effective.

Teachers’ support for prevention strategies varied based on political affiliation. The biggest difference based on political affiliation was in support of “having police officers or armed security stationed in schools.” Among respondents who identified as Democrat or “lean Democrat,” 37 percent said the strategy would be “extremely” or “very effective” at preventing school shootings, compared to 69 percent of self-identified Republican or “lean Republican” respondents.

Research suggests that, while school police do mitigate some types of violence in schools, their presence also correlates with increased student suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. There are also limited examples of school resource officers stopping school shootings, though advocates argue they may serve as a deterrent for would-be attackers.

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