The FINANCIAL — U.S. parents’ concern for their children’s physical safety at school has held steady this year at 28%. Parents’ fears most recently edged up to 33% in 2012 and 2013 after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. Since then, the percentage of parents who fear for their children’s safety has returned to the levels seen from 2009 to mid-2012.
Gallup’s 18-year trend documents spikes in parents’ concern about school safety after major incidents of gun violence at schools, including the April 1999 Columbine massacre (55%) and the March 2001 shooting at Santana High (45%), and an uptick after the December 2012 Newtown shooting (33%).
The combined data since 2012 demonstrate that parents’ worry varies among key subgroups. Mothers (33%) are more likely than fathers (25%), nonwhite parents (40%) are more likely than white parents (23%), and lower-income parents (41%) are nearly twice as likely as high-income parents (21%) to be concerned.
Despite the racial and income differences, concern among parents whose children attend public versus private schools does not differ significantly. However, parents of elementary and middle-school students are slightly more likely than parents of high school students to be concerned about their children’s safety at school.
Roughly One in Eight Students Express Fear for Their Own Safety
Currently, 13% of parents say their children have expressed fear about their safety at school. This is the highest level of fear recorded since 2001, when 22% of parents said their child indicated concern shortly after the Santana High School shooting. However, the current figure is largely consistent with the 8% to 12% range seen since 2012.
Parents’ reports since 2012 that their children have expressed fear are higher among mothers than fathers, nonwhites than whites, and low-income than middle- and high-income parents. These patterns match those seen among parents’ own concerns for their children’s safety. Additionally, 11% of parents with children in public schools say their child has expressed fear about their safety in school, nearly double the rate among parents of children in private schools (6%).
The spikes in parents’ fear for their children’s safety in the wake of high-profile school shootings have receded in recent years. After the 1999 Columbine shooting that left 12 students dead, a majority of U.S. parents admitted concern for their children’s safety at school. However, after 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012, one-third of U.S. parents expressed fear for their children’s physical safety at school.
According to the FBI, there have been as many as 50 mass murders or attempted mass murders in U.S. schools since the Columbine shooting. Parents’ muted response to high-visibility school shootings in recent years could reflect an increasing desensitization to school violence.