Despite the space of eight months between the start of the new school year and the massacre in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, little has allayed the fears of parents throughout the country when it comes to school safety, a new Gallup Poll shows. Right after the shooting more than 30% of families reported feeling fearful about the safety of their oldest child while he or she was in school. A similar percentage of parents are experiencing these fears today. Only 25% were said they were anxious about their children’s safety the same time last year.
According to Gallup’s annual Work and Education Poll conducted in early August, parental fears were actually on the decline in the five years prior to the Connecticut shooting. However, the tragedy didn’t translate to as high a spike in the numbers worried about school safety as was found after the 1999 incident in Columbine High School. The year after Klebold and Harris attacked Columbine with handguns and automatic weapons, 55% of parents worried about dangers to their kids in school hallways.
While parents express more concern about school safety now than before Newtown, children appear to be less affected. The poll finds 10% of parents saying their school-aged child has expressed concern about feeling unsafe at school, compared with 12% at this time a year ago. Gallup did not update the question in December after the Newtown shootings.
The larger historical trend on this question shows relatively few children expressing fear about their safety at school to their parents. Children were slightly more likely to tell a parent they felt unsafe several months after the Columbine shootings in August 1999, as well as in March 2001 after a school shooting in Santee, Calif. Aside from those two instances, the percentage of children who are worried has consistently been about 10%.
Researchers believe that one of the reasons why parents are not as afraid today as they were in the year after Columbine is that they’ve become used to hearing about such mass shooting events, which also means that families have more emotional coping tools in hand then they did 14 years ago.
Among subgroups, the largest differences in concern about children’s safety at school are by household income. Those whose income is less than $50,000 — roughly the national median — are nearly twice as likely as those whose income is $50,000 or above to worry about their children’s safety at school. That may reflect on the areas in which people live, as those with higher incomes could live in areas in which school violence, including bullying and gang activity in addition to shootings, is less common. Schools in upper-income areas may also have better resources to deal with school violence, including hiring security personnel, school psychologists, and guidance counselors.
The results also show that white families feel more secure about school safety than non-white families. Based on the percentage of respondents reporting a high level of concern, families believe that city schools are less safe than those located in suburban or urban parts of the country.