NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety

Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools

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Agenda - Tuesday, February 16

Conference Welcome & Plenary Presentation

Tue, Feb 16 at 11:00 am EST
Conference Opening Session

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Opening, Jennifer Scherer, NIJ

Overview of the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative and School Safety Research at NIJ, Mary Poulin Carlton, NIJ

A Philadelphia Story: Innovating and Improving in a Large Urban District, Abigail Gray and Kevin Bethel, School District of Philadelphia

The presenters will share experiences and insights from the School District of Philadelphia. Through strong partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and other collaborators, the district has leveraged several NIJ and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) grants to steadily improve school climate and safety. The presenters will describe the ongoing evolution of SDP's multi-faceted approach, which combines evidence-based programming, a focus on implementation, and innovation.

Breakout Sessions 1-3

Tue, Feb 16 at 12:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Preliminary Data from a Statewide Anonymous Tip Line and Multidisciplinary Teams in Nevada, Al Stein-Seroussi

In 2018, the State of Nevada launched SafeVoice, a statewide anonymous tip line for students to report events that might be harmful to them, their peers, or their school community. Harmful events are far ranging and include suicide threats, bullying, harassment, depression, and planned school attacks. The goal of SafeVoice is to provide a mechanism for students to inform responsible adults who can then prevent harmful events before they happen or to stop them from continuing. Although often referred to simply as a "tip line," SafeVoice also requires each school to have a multidisciplinary team (MDT) available around the clock to respond to tips. The Nevada Department of Education administers and oversees SafeVoice; the Nevada Department of Public Safety operates a 24/7 communication center that receives tips from students and then disseminates them to the appropriate local school district or law enforcement agency. SafeVoice is funded primarily by a grant from NIJ (2016-CK-BX-0007) to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation which is responsible for all research components. During this session, we will present program data about the volume and type of tips and preliminary data from our MDT survey about the experiences of those who receive and respond to tips.

Student Threat Assessment as a Safe and Supportive Prevention Strategy, Dewey Cornell

In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate student threat assessment in its public schools and in recent years many other states have required or encouraged its use. This project examined the statewide use of threat assessment in Virginia and identified ways to improve training and implementation. In this presentation we explain why student threat assessment must be distinguished from other kinds of threat assessment. We report some of the difficulties in statewide implementation of threat assessment and describe our development and testing of an online educational program for students, parents, and staff to encourage support for threat assessment. Next, we present outcomes for a sample of 1,865 cases assessed in 785 schools. As expected, threat assessment produced low rates of disciplinary and legal outcomes. Furthermore, there were no statistically significant differences for Black, Hispanic, and White students. These findings reflect the potential for threat assessment to provide an alternative to zero tolerance that is less punitive and more equitable. Finally, we describe next steps for future research on this rapidly growing violence prevention strategy.

Evaluation of the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System to Improve School Safety, Justin Heinze and Hsing-Fang Hsieh

Background. Anonymous reporting systems (ARS) have the potential to improve school safety through facilitating reporting and improving school climate. Yet, they have not been evaluated with experimental designs for either the effects they have on student reporting behavior and attitudes or school violence. 

Method. We seek to understand the effectiveness of the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System (SS-ARS) program in improving school climate and preventing school violence by examining underlying psychosocial factors in a cluster randomized control trial among students in 19 middle schools in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Using repeated survey responses, we compared students' self-efficacy and intention to report warning signs, perceptions of school climate, and exposure to violence at school in treatment versus control student populations.

Results. Results indicate that SS-ARS improved both short-term (3-month) and longer-term (9-month) outcomes for students to report warning signs. The intervention had positive effects on students' perceptions of school climate and reduced students' reports of violence exposure at school.

Conclusion. Our findings suggest that the implementation of ARS systems can be effective when they include ARS training that is integrated into a more comprehensive approach to improve school climate.

This is Not a Drill: Student and Staff Comprehension of Emergency Operations Protocols for School Violence, Josh Hendrix

School shootings in the past few decades have raised questions around how schools prepare for active shooter situations and the extent to which they are ready to respond to an emergency. We reviewed safety plans from 10 middle and high schools, assessed variation in lockdown protocols, examined staff and student comprehension of procedures, identified areas of strong and weak mastery, and highlighted characteristics associated with comprehension.

Tue, Feb 16 at 12:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Student Perceptions of School Safety and the Transition to a New School: Is there a Honeymoon Effect?, Dan Abad and Chris Melde

School transitions represent a salient event in a student's life with negative experiences often associated with the change. Student concerns with their safety is a noted issue faced by youth as they enter a new school. The current study examines three waves of panel qualitative data gathered from 60 students before, during, and at the end of their transition from elementary to middle and high schools in a high-risk context. Results suggest student perceptions of safety are consistent with what is known as a "honeymoon effect," where noted problems are temporarily reinterpreted in a positive manner, only to be experienced in more negative ways over time. Implications for the honeymoon effect on student perceptions of safety are discussed.

School Transition and School Violence: Longitudinal Research in Oregon Emma Espel Villarreal, Paul Smokowski and Julia Dmitrieva

This study employed a multi-systems approach to understanding the root causes of school violence. Quantitative analyses utilized longitudinal data from multiple agencies in the state of Oregon from 2004/05 to 2012/13. Qualitative thematic analyses examined the extant research literature on school violence. The study was designed to examine root causes and related factors contributing to school violence, disciplinary responses, and the factors related to school-to-prison pipeline. This session will provide an overview of the study and findings that highlight the deleterious effects of transitions to middle school and early school disciplinary actions such as suspensions, and identified promising school safety strategies.

“I felt like a hero” Ethnically Diverse Teens Talk About Revenge & Resolving Conflicts, Karin Frey and Adaurennaya C. Onyewuenyi

Daily routines and social interactions as contexts for school violence: a qualitative study, Bernadette Hohl

School violence is a major public health concern; disruptive to the educational environment and associated with negative mental health, school performance, and delinquency outcomes. The purpose of our analysis was to understand how students’ daily routines and social interactions influence risk of violence with the goal of informing intervention. As part of a large-scale, mixed-methods study we conducted semi-structured interviews (n=56) with 12-18 years old who lived/went to school in Philadelphia, PA, and were involved (victim/perpetrator) in a violent school-related assault in the six months prior to their interview. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and entered into NVivo 12 for coding and analysis. Using a modified grounded theory approach, we developed a codebook matching common themes identified in the interviews. Results suggest school-related violence is infrequently a random act; instead there was usually a precipitating event, and these incidents almost always involved people who knew each other. Important emerging themes included: opportunities to intervene; role of adults and peers in encouraging/discouraging violence; varied attitudes towards school supervision; role of social media; and presence of trauma and importance of emotion regulation. Social environment was considered in the context of the physical environment to enhance the meaning of place. School violence occurs with some regularity, and violent acts or incidents are often the final culminating events, offering several areas of modifiable factors for intervention leading up to the incident. Findings from this study lend important insights for to reduce school violence and will inform training and policy recommendations at the local level which can also be adapted nationwide in similar settings.

Tue, Feb 16 at 12:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Restorative Justice in New York City High Schools, Lama Hassoun Ayoub

Restorative justice (RJ) practices—which seek to build community and hold school community members who cause harm accountable—ostensibly represent an antidote to exclusionary disciplinary approaches and punitive school environments. In partnership with the New York City Department of Education, this evaluation examines the process and outcomes of RJ implementation in Brooklyn high schools with the highest suspension rates in New York City. The study employs a randomized controlled trial design, where 10 high schools were randomly assigned to either the control group (business as usual) or the treatment group (RJ). Because schools in the control group were also poised to receive standard RJ training from the NYC DOE, we also incorporated a matched comparison group of schools from nearby neighborhoods without any exposure to RJ. The study has involved process evaluation and an ongoing outcome evaluation. Results from the process evaluation indicate varied approaches to school-wide implementation of RJ and the key roles that leadership, beliefs, and resources play in facilitating or challenging implementation. Using multi-level modeling, the outcome study will examine the impact of RJ on student incidents, suspensions, and attendance. Outcome results will be final by May 2021.

Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities (PERC) Initiative: Pittsburgh's Restorative Practices Program, John Engberg

Restorative practices (RP) are a strategy to reduce suspension rates by proactively improving relationships among students and staff and by building a sense of community in classrooms and schools. We examine the implementation of RP in Pittsburgh Public Schools and estimate its impact on student outcomes such as suspensions, transfers to alternative placements, attendance, arrests, and test scores; on staff such as attendance, classroom control and value added; and school climate. 

A subset of Pittsburgh schools implemented SaferSanerSchools™ Whole-School Change program for two school years (2015-16 and 2016-17), in conjunction with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). IIRP provided four days of professional development. Each principal was assigned an IIRP coach. All school staff were asked to participate in monthly professional learning groups (PLGs). 

RP was successful at reducing exclusionary disciplinary practices without harming classroom or school climate, particularly at the elementary level. RP as implemented was not successful in middle school grades. Training provided to school staff by IIRP was valued and effective, although care should be taken by district staff to set expectations and establish priorities. Attention should be paid to data systems that will allow staff to monitor changes in disciplinary incidents and sanctions.

The Impact of the Safe Public Spaces in Schools Program on School Safety, Student Behavior, and Discipline Events, Kimberly Kendizora and Juliette Berg

The Safe Public Spaces in Schools Program (SPS) is a schoolwide, multi-component approach to enhance safety in out-of-classroom spaces in schools. It was studied in a randomized trial with 24 urban middle schools. The implementation evaluation used independent observation and interviews to find that SPS was well-implemented, but that comparison schools also had high levels of safety activities similar to key components of the SPS program. The impact evaluation used a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) approach and found differences in baseline trends. Control schools were getting slightly better while SPS schools were getting slightly worse in terms of behavioral incidents and suspensions. During the two-year implementation, SPS schools maintained their trajectory, but the control schools also showed increasing numbers of incidents and suspensions in those years. The CITS estimates for suspensions overall, suspensions for serious incidents, and suspensions for serious incidents in public spaces were statistically significant. The data show a modest harm reduction effect: there was no change in trend for SPS schools but engaging in SPS may have kept treatment schools from experiencing worse outcomes than they otherwise might have. There were no effects of SPS on student-reported safety, student-teacher trust, classroom behavior, or bullying.

Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline While Enhancing School Safety: The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program, Naomi Goldstein

Designed to keep youth out of the justice system and in school, the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program offers voluntary community-based services to eligible youth accused of minor school-based offenses in lieu of arrest. With funding from NIJ and OJJDP, this study examined Police School Diversion Program outcomes, revealing an 84% decrease in the annual number of school-based arrests across Philadelphia in the program’s first five year, a 34% decrease in the annual number of serious behavioral incidents in schools, and a significantly lower recidivism rate two-years after the referring incident for diverted youth relative to youth arrested for similar offenses in the year prior to Diversion Program implementation. Additionally, diverted youth were less likely than a matched group of arrested youth to experience exclusionary school discipline in the year following the school-based incident that led to police referral. This presentation will review these promising findings and discussion the ways in which this pre-arrest diversion program prevents youth from entering the justice system and helps them stay on normal developmental paths as adolescents and as students.

Roundtable Discussions 1-3

Tue, Feb 16 at 2:30 pm EST
ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION 1: Impact of COVID-19 on School Safety

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Impact of COVID-19 on School Safety, Christine Harms

Tue, Feb 16 at 2:30 pm EST

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Tip Lines, Michael Planty

Tue, Feb 16 at 2:30 pm EST
ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION 3: Bureau of Justice Statistics: Survey of Law Enforcement in Public Schools (SLEPS)

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Bureau of Justice Statistics: Survey of Law Enforcement in Public Schools (SLEPS), Kevin Scott and Elizabeth Davis

Breakout Sessions 4-6

Tue, Feb 16 at 3:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Reducing Youth Violence by Leveraging the Influence of Network Brokers: Preliminary Results of Comprehensive School-Wide Intervention, Richard Gilman

The involvement of peers holds much promise for school-based anti-violence efforts to reduce the "bystander effect" (individuals who notice but avoid disclosing information to help a real or potential victim). This presentation will show how network "brokers" (i.e., those having direct relationships with peers who themselves do not have a direct relationship with each other) can be used to reduce the bystander effect. Data obtained over the first three years of a four-year study reveal significant reductions in school-reported violence episodes, self-reported aggression, and collective interpersonal distress, and significant increases in peer-to-broker disclosure.

Evaluating the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in U.S. Urban Middle Schools, Terri Sullivan

We evaluated the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) using a multiple-baseline experimental design. For teacher ratings, we found significant main effects across all subtypes of aggression and victimization, with some variability in the timing of effects. The pattern of findings showed delayed intervention effects for boys and a weaker impact of the OBPP on 6th graders. We found main effects for student-reported cyber aggression and victimization, relational aggression, and a composite of physical, verbal, and relational victimization. Decreases in victimization emerged in the 1st or 2nd year of intervention, and reductions in aggression emerged during the 3rd year. Qualitative data that help to better understand these patterns of findings will also be presented.

Randomized Impact Evaluation of the No Bully System, Thomas Hanson

The No Bully System (NBS) is a set of interventions that are designed to activate adult and peer support for targets of bullying in a school. The goal of the study was to determine whether NBS reduced the recurrence of bullying perpetration and victimization among students, whether NBS specifically reduced bullying perpetration and victimization among those students at risk of bullying involvement (victims and perpetrators), and whether NBS improved perceptions of school safety, peer support, and other indicators of school climate among all students in participating schools. The impact evaluation used a cluster randomized experimental design that involved 24 elementary schools in the Oakland Unified School District (California). Results indicated that bullying victimization declined and safety perceptions increased among bully victims. Students in intervention schools who were at very high risk of being bully victims at baseline exhibited substantial reductions in victimization compared to their counterparts in control schools. No impacts were detected on school-wide measures of school safety, peer support, and other indicators of school climate for all students in participating schools.

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Interventions to Decrease Cyberbullying Perpetration and Victimization, Josh Polanin

Numerous school-based programs have been implemented to decrease cyberbullying perpetration and victimization. Although several previous meta-analyses have been conducted on the topic, the current review is comprehensive of the published and unpublished literatures and uses modern meta-analytic techniques. A total of 50 studies and 320 extracted effect sizes spanning 45,371 participants met the review protocol criteria. Results indicated that programs reduced cyberbullying perpetration (g = -0.18) and victimization (g = -0.13). Translated to the newly developed probability of positive impact, we estimate that future implementations have a 76% and 73% probability of decreasing cyberbullying perpetration and victimization, respectively.

Tue, Feb 16 at 3:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Exploring the Relationship Between School Climate and Safety: Restorative Justice and PBIS, Troy Smith, Karen Crews, Sean Kelly

Recent research has identified concerns about traditional, exclusionary approaches to school discipline, including negative impacts, lack of positive impacts, and racially disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions. To address these concerns, K-12 teachers, and school and district leaders have turned to positive approaches to school discipline. RAND and Montgomery County Public Schools partnered together to test the effectiveness of two approaches: Restorative Justice (RJ) and School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS). These programs are increasingly being used together and there are theoretical reasons to believe that there are complementarities that make the combination more effective than either program alone. However, there has been no rigorous research to evaluate the effectiveness of SW-PBIS+RJ on school climate and safety. In this study, 23 schools that were implementing SW-PBIS were randomized to either continue with SW-PBIS only or to also introduce RJ practices along with SW-PBIS. An additional 20 schools that were doing neither approach were randomly assigned to continue their traditional disciplinary approach or to introduce both SW-PBIS and RJ together. Using qualitative and quantitative data, the study examines the implementation, impact, and cost-effectiveness of the two programs in combination. NIJ provided funding and implementation was scheduled to last two years.

The Causes and Consequences of School Violence: The Impact of Social Media on Delinquency, Timothy McCuddy

The UMSL CSSI is a multi-year study that investigates the causes and consequences of school violence as well as factors contributing to safe learning environments. In total, the project includes three annual surveys of students, two surveys of school personnel, 197 semi-structured interviews, and 37 in-depth interviews across six school districts in St. Louis County. These data address a number of areas related to patterns of school violence, with an emphasis on the identification of correlates via multiple sources. After proving a brief overview of this project, the presentation will focus on a specific set of findings related to the timely issue of students' use of social media and the impact of online peers. In particular, I discuss findings related to 1) the influence of online peers, 2) gang members' use of social media, and 3) the intersection between cyberbullying and school bullying victimization.

Suspension Diversion and Gang Prevention: Taking a Comprehensive Approach to School Safety, Stephanie Hawkins

Suspension and expulsion are common responses for students that violate school discipline policies, yet these practices are not effective in meeting the needs of students. In fact, these practices may exacerbate the very problems they are attempting to reduce. The objective of the Shelby County Comprehensive School Safety Initiative is to evaluate school safety strategies designed to reduce violence and misbehavior of students while minimizing the severity of negative outcomes. This presentation describes how the perceptions of safety changed within the Shelby County School District when they shifted their diversion and gang intervention efforts from high schools to middle schools.

Tue, Feb 16 at 3:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Implementation of a Trauma-Informed Approach to PBIS, Ryan Fink

This presentation will share the rationale, design, and implementation of a project currently underway in the School District of Philadelphia entitled "PBIS in Challenging Contexts: Evaluating a Replicable Implementation Approach in Philadelphia". This project has developed a trauma-informed approach to implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) which is currently being implemented and evaluated in a small set of schools. The presentation will focus on describing both the implementation supports which have been developed during this project as well as the research design being used to evaluate its potential impact.

Studying Implementation of PBIS in Rural Schools During Challenging Times, Lindsey Turner

Schools in rural areas often have limited access to resources for implementation of evidence-based programs. Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based framework for universal and targeted prevention of problem behaviors. Many rural schools lack capacity for implementation of new initiatives (e.g., funding, staffing expertise), and have fewer external resources for implementation support. The RK-12 Rural Schools Research project is a cluster-randomized trial of strategies to support scale-up of PBIS specifically in rural settings. Among the 40 schools participating in this trial, 20 were randomized to receive basic PBIS training, and 20 were randomized to receive training plus advanced implementation support strategies (external coaching, online resources, a virtual learning community). The project was completing Year 1 of the trial when the COVID-19 school closures occurred in the spring of the 2019-2020 school year. Because a key goal of the project was to test remote strategies for implementation support, we have been able to continue with the trial despite COVID-19 disruptions to the K-12 school system. This presentation will describe the study's original design and adaptations that were made due to school transitions to virtual or hybrid virtual/in-person instruction in the 2020-2021 school year, as well as adaptations to our data collection plans.

Integrated Supports for Vulnerable Middle School Students: Importance of Implementation and Context in Randomized Controlled Trials, Lauren Decker-Woodrow

Randomized control trials (RCTs) are widely viewed as the gold standard in evaluation research, but are sometimes challenging to conduct. Too often these challenges are not clearly documented, making it difficult to assess outcomes and derive lessons. This presentation will focus on implementation issues, because they are critically important, yet often not discussed. The context of the presentation is a student-level RCT of a truancy intervention program provided within Communities In Schools® (CIS). The study included more than 1,800 middle school students across three academic years who were randomly assigned to receive either the typical CIS services or a more intensive version of those services. Discussion will focus on some of the key challenges that appeared and recommendations to inform future evaluation efforts.

National Institute of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Framework, Mary Carlton, Nadine Frederique, and Caleb Hudgins

Congress tasked the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) with developing a comprehensive school safety framework. The framework has three components: school climate, student behavior, and physical safety. This aligns with the other frameworks found in the literature and is underpinned by findings from CSSI research projects. Schools that employ comprehensive approaches to addressing violence are not immune from school violence. However, implementing a comprehensive approach minimizes incidents of serious violence and prepares schools to recover from them when they occur.  The goal of this presentation is to discuss the major components of NIJ's framework, the relationships between them, and the research that is the basis of the framework.