Researchers map out school violence 'hot spots'
June 4, 1999
ANN ARBOR, Michigan (CNN) -- Whether fist fights or lethal attacks, most school violence takes place outside the classroom -- in hallways, cafeterias and other places without direct teacher supervision, researchers say.
"They're really areas that are no one's responsibility, either the students or the teachers," said University of Michigan's Ron Astor, one of three researchers who mapped out "hot spots" of violence in secondary and elementary schools.
The researchers from Michigan and The College of New Jersey also noted that many teachers fail to break up student fights in such public places, which include bathrooms, locker rooms and school grounds, because they don't consider such "unowned" spaces their domain.
"Most of the teachers interviewed for the study said they did feel that sense of ownership of the space within the four walls of their classrooms, and the responsibility to intervene when there's trouble," said Astor, a professor of social work and education.
"But they were reluctant to extend that sense of ownership to more common places like the cafeteria or playground."
Some of the results, published in the spring issue of the American Educational Research Journal, determined that all 166 reported acts of violence at five high schools in the Midwest occurred in locations with few or no adults.
About 40 percent of the incidents happened in hallways between class periods; another 20 percent took place in cafeterias during lunch.
Astor said the teachers are not uncaring, but hampered by institutional constraints such as how schools are organized and high student-teacher ratios.
"It seems the organization of the school has defined the role of a teacher's specialty in the walls of the classroom. That means all other spaces are not their responsibility," he said.
Astor and his colleagues think teachers and students can reduce the risk of violence by mapping out possible danger spots and identifying ways to secure them.
While the trend was most prevalent at secondary schools, elementary schools are at risk, too.
Fourth-graders at Bach Elementary School in Ann Arbor said most fights occur on the playground. The school is working to make common areas safer by encouraging teacher intervention and training students to settle disputes peacefully.
Correspondent Ed Garsten contributed to this report.
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