Position Statement: School Safety
As the national theatre education service organizations, the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of all students engaged in school-based theatre making and the educators who are guiding them. Part of that obligation is to advocate for physical spaces where students, teachers, and their audiences can come together without fear of harm, whether it is the classroom, stage, studio, or outdoors. Schools should be welcoming, open environments where youth have a sense of belonging and can discover, reflect, and learn safely.
There have been 132 school shootings in the United States since Education Week started tracking them in 2018. In 2022, 40 school shootings have resulted in injuries or death—the most in a single year. While research is limited on the mental health impact of these events, a survey of 2,000 teens showed increased levels in anxiety and panic six months later, prompted by shootings or violence at their school or other schools. This is coupled with the additional stress caused by the pandemic, social isolation, and trauma for the more than 140,000 children who lost a caregiver due to COVID.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15-24 in 2020, and for the same year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 36.7% of high school students reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year. This percentage is higher for females (46.6%), Hispanic students (40.0%), and lesbian, gay, or bisexual students (66.3%).
Our teachers, like all educators, have also been impacted by school violence, along with other issues—COVID concerns, teacher shortages, and burnout among them—prompting many to consider leaving the profession. A survey conducted between July 2020 and June 2021 by the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of surveyed teachers and a third of administrators said they are planning or want to quit or transfer jobs due to concerns about school climate and safety.
EdTA and AATE strongly advocate for theatre education as a cornerstone for helping students move forward from the trauma of the pandemic and the ongoing fear of violence and urge schools to provide the resources our teaching professionals need to feel comfortable and confident. Both need social and emotional spaces where they can create, talk, and share through experiences that are inclusive and respectful of all points of view. To support their needs, EdTA and AATE have created a compendium of resources created by a range of respected organizations and networks that offer tools and resources that can help ease the trauma experienced by our students and teachers.
We need to save students’ lives and all lives of those who are at risk of violence. EdTA and AATE are demanding laws that protect our students and educators, guarantee every student’s access to theatre education, and a recognition of our discipline’s unique ability to reignite children’s engagement in learning across all subject areas, in an era where it is so critically important to our country’s future.