Nearly three times as many American parents fear for their child’s safety at school today than during the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, according to a poll released this week.
A survey of public attitudes toward school safety commissioned by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional organization for teachers, found that 34 percent of American parents of school-age children fear for their kids’ safety at school. In 2013, the last time the organization asked parents about the issue, 12 percent of parents said they were worried their kids were unsafe at school.
A majority of parents, 63 percent, opposed arming teachers and school staff, the poll also found. Thirty-six percent said they believed armed teachers would make students less safe, compared to 26 percent who believed that would make students more safe.
The cause for the surge in concern is obvious to Joshua Starr, the CEO of the teachers group. “The Parkland tragedy captured the public attention and stayed in the public domain more than any similar event has, and that’s because of the student-led protests,” Starr said in an interview.
Parents’ fear about school safety has not been as high in a PDK poll since 1998. In the wake of several school shootings that year, PDK found that 38 percent of parents were concerned about physical harm befalling children at school.
The results suggest the public will be receptive to politicians who support stronger gun laws, according to Alexandra Filindra, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She points to a body of political science research, covered in the book Anxious Politics, that shows that worries like those documented by the PDK survey can incline the public towards government action.
“Anxiety is a key factor of support for gun control,” Filindra said. “When people are anxious about things they can’t control, they tend to look to government for solutions. They become more in favor of regulation and ways to handle the problem collectively. “
Not all the demographic groups that responded to the survey were equally worried. Parents who were nonwhite, lived in cities, identified as Democrats or lacked a college degree were all more worried about harm coming to their children than white, rural, Republican, or college-educated parents. Forty-eight percent of parents from households that made $50,000 or less per year said they worried about their children’s safety, compared to just 24 percent of those with six-figure incomes. There was also a gender split among the parents: 40 percent of women were fearful compared to 27 percent of men.
There was broad consensus on how schools can best prevent danger. Clear majorities of parents — 92 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats — approved of installing more armed police officers in schools. Three quarters of parents endorsed mental health screenings for students.
One educator cautioned that implementing some of these responses could be difficult, however. On a conference call discussing the poll results, Brian Osborne, the superintendent of schools for New Rochelle, New York, said that, this spring, his district proposed hiring new mental health professionals to perform exactly the kind of screening discussed in the PDK poll. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the budget, unwilling to pay the cost.