With School Starting and 8 Months After Newtown, Many Parents Fear for Their Child’s Safety

A new poll shows that lower-income Americans fear more about school safety than those with greater means.

Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood as Crystal Stoval delivers her niece Kayla Porter from their South Side home to Gresham Elementary School on the first day of classes Monday.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros
Aug. 29, 2013, 8:23 a.m.

It’s been eight months since the deadly shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­ment­ary School, but many par­ents are still be­ing afraid for their chil­dren’s safety.

Gal­lup re­leased a new poll on Thursday as mil­lions of chil­dren across the coun­try re­turn to school, ask­ing 508 par­ents of chil­dren between kinder­garten and 12th grade wheth­er they feel their old­est child is at risk of vi­ol­ence in his or her school. The sur­vey found that 33 per­cent of those par­ents fear for their child’s safety, the same per­cent­age as when this ques­tion was asked after 26 chil­dren and teach­ers were mas­sacred at the New­town, Conn., school in Decem­ber 2012.

After the shoot­ing, Pres­id­ent Obama and many Demo­crat­ic lead­ers at­temp­ted to pass sev­er­al bills re­lated to gun safety, in­clud­ing a ban on as­sault rifles, stricter back­ground checks, harsh­er pen­al­ties for il­leg­al gun traf­fick­ing, and new meas­ures for school safety. All of them failed be­cause of op­pos­i­tion from Re­pub­lic­ans who feared the meas­ures would in­fringe on the Second Amend­ment and pri­vacy rights of law-abid­ing cit­izens.

The pres­id­ent, in­stead, vowed to at­tempt to re­vive this de­bate later and, for the time be­ing, pur­sue ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions that he said would help pro­tect chil­dren. On Thursday, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vealed two more ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions: one that closes a loop­hole to re­strict ac­cess to some of the more dan­ger­ous weapons, in­clud­ing ma­chine guns and short-barreled shot­guns; and one that will deny re­quests to bring mil­it­ary-grade fire­arms back to the United States to private en­tit­ies, with a few ex­cep­tions such as mu­seums (since 2005, the gov­ern­ment has al­lowed 250,000 of these weapons to come back to the U.S.).

Fol­low­ing the Con­necti­c­ut shoot­ings, Obama an­nounced that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would pur­sue 23 ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions to re­duce gun vi­ol­ence, in­clud­ing meas­ures to im­prove men­tal health and im­prove school safety.

In the five years lead­ing up to the New­town mas­sacre, par­ents of chil­dren between kinder­garten and 12th grade were less wor­ried about school safety. In 2008, just 15 per­cent of those par­ents felt their child was in danger, ac­cord­ing to Gal­lup.

But this doesn’t mean the U.S. is at its peak in par­ent­al con­cern for school safety. The shoot­ings at Columbine High School in Col­or­ado shook par­ents to the core, it seems, more than the New­town shoot­ing. In the af­ter­math of those shoot­ings in April 1999, 55 per­cent of par­ents said they were wor­ried about school safety. That num­ber re­mained high for two years.


And per­haps the sad truth about why par­ent­al fear is not as high as it was fol­low­ing Columbine, Gal­lup ex­plains, is that “Amer­ic­ans may be a bit more ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing about sim­il­ar tra­gedies today than at the turn of the cen­tury.”

It’s also not sur­pris­ing that fear for school safety var­ied by in­come levels, and that lower-in­come par­ents have great­er fear than those with more means. Par­ents whose in­come is less than $50,000, which is near the na­tion­al av­er­age, are twice as wor­ried as par­ents with in­comes over that level. The reas­on likely has to do with the areas in which lower-in­come Amer­ic­ans live, where vi­ol­ence is more likely.

But it might be some com­fort that chil­dren are less likely to ex­press worry or con­cern for their safety while in schools. Just 10 per­cent of par­ents say their chil­dren feel un­safe when they go back to school.

This Gal­lup sur­vey was con­duc­ted by phone Aug. 7-11, and has a sampling er­ror of 5 per­cent­age points.

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