Virginia Statistics

The highly publicized school shootings of the 1990s generated nationwide concern about school safety. The Virginia Tech shooting extended this concern to colleges as well.  However, policy decisions about school safety must be based on objective information, not fears based on extreme cases. Here is a brief overview of violent crimes and school discipline infractions in Virginia that support a different conclusion: namely, that Virginia schools are safe places and that student violence resulting in injury to others is rare. The most common incidents at school involve disrespectful or disruptive behavior, followed by fights and threats that do not result in injury.

Where do violent crimes occur?

According to offense statistics from the Virginia Department of State Police (2012), relatively few violent crimes occur in schools or colleges.

Source: Virginia Department of State Police (2012)


What are juveniles arrested for in Virginia?

In 2011, there were 355,595 arrests in Virginia. Only about 8.9% (31,635) of those arrests involved juveniles. The most common reason for a juvenile arrest was simple assault, followed by runaway and drug offenses.  Drug offenses comprised 8.7% of the juvenile arrest rate.

Source: Virginia Department of State Police (2012)

How many juveniles are arrested for violent crimes in Virginia?

Juveniles commit relatively few serious crimes, for example only 4.3% of murders and 10.7% of the aggravated assaults were committed by juveniles.

Source: Virginia Department of State Police (2012)


What kind of discipline violations occur in Virginia schools?

Virginia has 1,987 public schools serving 1,252,079 students. Each of Virginia’s school divisions is required to maintain records of disciplinary violations and make an annual report to the Virginia Department of Education (2012). Although there are some differences across schools and school divisions in how they identify disciplinary violations and maintain their records, some general trends are evident. There were a total of 176,628 incidents, which is slightly more than one incident for every seven students (of course most students have no violations and a small number of students will have many violations). The most frequent discipline violations are classified as “defiance” (15.8% or 27,958 violations). The table below presents common types of incidents that are not classified as defiance. There are relatively few incidents involving injury to others.

Source: Virginia Department of Education (2012)

What kinds of weapon violations occur in Virginia schools?

Weapon violations (2,587) make up 1.3% of the discipline violations in Virginia schools, but they are important because of the potential for serious injury and their effect on school climate. As shown in the table below, weapon incidents most commonly involve a knife (including razors and box cutters) and rarely involve a firearm. The large category of “other weapons” can include knives, clubs, pepper spray, etc.

There are far more look-alike guns (toys) than real guns. Moreover, event the category of “real” guns may be misleading. Of the 143 incidents involving an object that was formally classified as a “real gun”, just 21 were handguns and 4 were rifle/shotguns. There were 4 incidents classified either as “other firearms,” a category that includes air rifles, or as “BB Guns', which has its own category.

In recent years, Virginia has reported an unusually high rate of expulsions for firearm violations under federal Gun-Free school Act, in comparison to other states. In part, this high rate may be due to some confusion between the state and federal definitions of firearms. Although Virginia’s state classification system includes air rifles and BB guns in the category of “other firearms,” the federal Gun-Free Schools Act specifically excludes toy guns, cap guns, bb guns, and pellet guns from its definition of a firearm, and therefore the federal law does not mandate expulsion for possession of such objects (Virginia Department of Education, 2006).

Source: Virginia Department of Education (2012)

How dangerous are our schools?

Schools are not dangerous places. The perception that schools are dangerous is a misperception generated by a series of extreme, high profile cases that are not representative of most schools. In fact, very few violent crimes take place at school. From the standpoint of violent crime, students are safer at school than at home. Moreover, schools have become even safer during the past decade such that the serious violent crime rate at school is less than half what it was in 1994 (see the companion article, “Myths about youth violence and school safety”). Although there are relatively few serious violent crimes at school, there are many less serious crimes and there are numerous discipline problems—primarily disorderly conduct and fights that do not result in injuries—that demand attention. Bullying, teasing, and harassment are common problems that deserve attention in every school, too. School policies and practices must be focused on the sorts of problems that actually occur in schools.


Virginia Department of Education (2012). Annual Report

Virginia Department of State Police (2012). Crime in Virginia 2011..