December 6, 1996

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -

Students feel safe at school. In fact, they often feel safer at school than they do outside school, report researchers from the Center for Injury Control at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.

Led by Knox Todd, M.D., and Marlena M. Ward, the Emory team investigated how nearly $20 million in Georgia Lottery for Education proceeds were spent for middle school and high school safety equipment technology and whether school staff and students thought the equipment made the schools safer.

The study was conducted earlier this year at 15 public middle and high schools across Georgia at the request of Gov. Zell Miller's blue ribbon committee, the Council for School Performance.

Schools used the funds to purchase video surveillance cameras, metal detectors, security systems, communications equipment and fencing. According to the researchers, the equipment has brought mixed reactions from Georgia's students, teachers and administrators, some of whom worry it fuels perceptions that schools are unsafe.

The researchers found inconsistencies between a school's stated needs and the safety interventions it chose. In addition, the thoroughness of schools' needs assessments varied widely. For example, school staff indicated that violence and vandalism most often occurred outside school buildings, yet most video cameras monitored the inside of school buildings. And when cameras were placed outside, inadequate lighting hindered effectiveness.

Many schools, however, report benefits from the equipment. Administrators, security personnel and teachers reported using walkie-talkies to communicate with each other while performing monitoring duties. They reported feeling less isolated when communications equipment and alarms were available. Teachers, especially those working in school buildings at night and those teaching in mobile classrooms or isolated buildings on larger campuses, valued safety equipment the most.

School staff said they thought metal detectors and other equipment deterred violence and other criminal activity. Teachers and other school staff reported they felt safer because of the equipment. While students were less likely to view the equipment favorably, some admitted they would feel less secure without it.

Despite media attention to recent acts of violence in schools, the researchers learned that school staff and students see these as isolated incidents, not commonplace events. The perception is that such incidents happened at "other" schools, and not one's own. Students and school staff are angered by what they considered is negative reporting about public schools, the researchers said.

Although expenditures for school safety equipment were viewed positively, many said the funds might have been better spent on additional staff or academic initiatives. Those queried pointed to the quality of human relationships, not the presence of safety equipment, as the determinant of school safety.

When teachers and school administrators are trusted, students are more likely to express safety concerns to staff, the researchers report.

"In all cases that firearms were discovered, they were discovered because a student informed staff that another student had a firearm," Dr. Todd says.

The researchers stressed that the study is preliminary and that more needs to be learned about the impact of safety equipment on school safety.

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, call Health Sciences News and Information at 404-727-5686, or send e-mail to

Copyright ©Emory University, 1996. All Rights Reserved.
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