How to encourage students to report threats

Having a school climate in which students feel comfortable turning to a trusted adult is the key to a successful threat reporting system, a RAND Corporation study concludes.

Without those strong relationships between youth and adults, threats or concerns related to school safety are less likely to be reported in time to prevent problems, the report found.

The RAND Studypublished Aug. 25, outlines how states, districts, and schools can encourage students to report threats of school violence so action can be taken before something happens.

The study was released three months after the Uvalde school shooting, Texas, and as K-12 districts scramble to increase school safety and prevent another tragedy. Many schools are spending more on physical securitysuch as metal detectors, security cameras, and door locking systems.

But the report suggests that focusing on school climate is also critical to ensuring school safety.

“In the wake of all these horrific school shootings, a lot of conversations turned to a different range of topics,” said Pauline Moore, one of the study’s authors and a political scientist at RAND. “There is the issue of gun safety, gun rights. There will be discussions about improving physical safety in schools. There will be debates about whether or not we need armed teachers in schools.”

But Moore stresses that “this report really shows that the human dimension is really important in all of this.”

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the Association of School Superintendents, told Education Week that the RAND study’s findings are “very much in line with what schools across the country are working on and trying to do.” Administrators and teachers are working to connect with students beyond academic priorities to build trusting relationships, he said.

“Most people think that all educators care about are student achievement and test scores,” Domenech said. “But schools are also about student safety and student mental well-being.”

The study also found that students are more likely to report safety issues if schools use communication methods that are more common among school-age children, whether through phone apps, websites, email or text messages. .

Having an anonymous option is also important so students don’t have to worry about being bullied by their peers because they reported a threat.

Students need to know who will file their reports of possible violence.

It is also important for schools to be transparent about what happens to information reported through a tip line or other methods. Those who report concerns need to know who will take their calls and suggestions, who has access to the information, which issues are handled by school administrators, and which are handled by law enforcement.

Other study findings include:

  • Reporting programs with the option to speak or chat directly with someone trained in crisis communication can reduce barriers to reporting for those who are not comfortable speaking directly with law enforcement.
  • Raising awareness and implementing training on the importance of reporting and how students can report information are critical to supporting individuals seeking to come forward.
  • Having buy-in from school leadership, teachers, and other school personnel (including cafeteria staff, after school staff, and bus drivers) increases the chances that a reporting program will be effective and sustainable.

“I think people understand what it takes to get students to show up. It’s just a matter of finding the time and resources to implement the right approach,” said Moore.

Domenech agreed. He said school safety is top of mind for educators, but has been a “challenge” at times to implement. For example, districts are trying to hire more social workers, guidance counselors, and security personnel, but are struggling to fill those positions.. Some districts are also fighting to get social media companies to provide information to districts when students may threaten harm to themselves or others.

Domenech added that while it has been great to have the funding from the American Rescue Planthe requirement that federal COVID-19 recovery money be spent within a three-year period is “an issue.”

“What is going to happen when those dollars are no longer available? And how can you maintain the kind of practices that you have put in place to deal with student safety?” Domenech asked.

The study was based on a literature review of research on encouraging young people’s willingness to report their concerns. Moore and the other researchers also conducted about 35 interviews with people who work in K-12 education, including state leaders, district leaders and principals, to get feedback on what approaches have worked for them to get students to report.

The research was sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and is part of an effort to provide tools for K-12 schools to improve school safety.

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