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By Fred Nathan


and often overlooked factor in school shootings they are disproportionately concentrated in large schools.


COMMENTARY / OPINION: New Mexico lawmakers included $40 million for improving school safety in this year’s state budget, to pay for security features like metal detectors, surveillance cameras and bulletproof windows. Lawmakers should also consider what they might do about a surprising and often overlooked factor in school shootings: they are disproportionately concentrated in large schools.

by Fred Nathan

In 2017, researchers at Vassar College published an analysis of the mass school shootings that had occurred between 1995-2014. They discovered that schools where mass shootings occurred had significantly higher student enrollments than the average in their states.

These findings are consistent with two decades of research by the U.S. Department of Education. Between 1998 and 2017, the department issued a series of studies on violence in schools, and found that serious violent crimes – including attacks with weapons – occur far more frequently at schools enrolling more than 1,000 students than smaller schools. In fact, the department identified large school size as one of only five characteristics that increased the likelihood of a serious violent incident occurring.

In the 2016-2017 school year, nearly two-thirds of New Mexico ninth graders entered high schools with populations larger than 1,000 students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 35 percent of schools enrolling more than 1,000 students experience serious violent crimes. This is more than twice the percentage of schools enrolling 300-999 students that experience similar incidents – and five times higher than the percentage of schools enrolling fewer than 300 students, only 7 percent of which experience serious violent crimes.

While our state government plans to spend $40 million in the next year on school security measures, likely concentrated in the largest schools with the highest risk of violence, every year for the past two decades New Mexico has spent $65-250 million on school construction projects through the Public Schools Facilities Authority (PSFA).

Unfortunately, millions of those dollars have gone to build schools that are too large to be safe. Over the past decade, schools enrolling more than 1,000 students have been built in communities ranging from Gallup to Deming to Las Cruces, and many districts have consolidated small elementary schools into larger facilities enrolling 700-800 students. Albuquerque’s two newest high schools, built with PSFA funding, have student populations of 2,172 and 2,572.


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