The vast majority of students attending Virginia public high schools describe positive and supportive relationships with their teachers and other adults at their school, according to an annual survey designed by a team at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.
More than one-third (36 percent) of high school students reported that bullying was a problem at their school, with 6 percent reporting that they had been bullied once or more per week at school this year.
This year, the survey included new questions about sexual harassment at school in the past 12 months. This was a particular concern for female students who reported being the recipient of unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature (21 percent) and sexual comments, jokes or gestures that made them feel uncomfortable (38 percent).
As part of the annual School Safety Audit that conducts surveys of varying grade levels on different years, this survey was administered to Virginia high schools by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety during the spring 2016 semester and was analyzed by the Youth Violence Project, a research project at the Curry School.
Nearly 69,000 students in grades nine through 12 and 14,619 teachers and staff members anonymously completed the online survey covering two areas: school climate and safety conditions.
The school climate questions reflected positive conditions in Virginia's high schools, from both student and teacher perspectives. As in previous years, students, teachers and staff overwhelmingly believe most teachers and other adults at their school want all students to do well, that they care about all students and treat students with respect.
In addition to characterizing the relationships between students and adults as supportive, the majority of adults surveyed believe teachers work well with one another (69 percent) and that their school environment is collegial for teachers and other staff members (60 percent).
"While most of the surveyed school personnel reported a positive school climate, there is clearly room for improvement," said Dewey Cornell, the UVA professor who heads the survey team. "One particular concern is that many teachers question the consistency and effectiveness of school discipline. This is a major topic in American education today. Many schools are trying to reduce their use of school suspension, but need viable alternatives."
In 2013 Virginia became the first state to mandate the use of threat assessment teams in its schools. However, after three years nearly half (49 percent) of the faculty and staff reported that they were unaware that their school uses a formal threat assessment process. According to research done by the Youth Violence Project, the threat assessment teams in Virginia schools prevent violence and administer disciplinary consequences without racial bias.
"The evidence is strong that Virginia threat assessment teams are making a positive impact in schools," Cornell said. "We believe it is crucial that teachers become increasingly aware of these efforts. Threat assessment can prevent violence, but only if students and staff make use of the process."
Individual school survey reports were prepared for each school. Reporters can contact school divisions for information on their local high schools.