NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety

Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools

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Agenda - Wednesday, February 17

Plenary Presentation

Wed, Feb 17 at 11:00 am EST
Tragedy to Transformation: Preventing School Violence with Proven Programs

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Tragedy to Transformation: Preventing School Violence with Proven Programs, Nicole Hockley, Sandy Hook Promise

In the weeks following the murder of her son, Dylan, in his first-grade classroom, Nicole Hockley co-founded Sandy Hook Promise with a mission to end school shootings. The research-informed Know The Signs programs she helped develop and launch have since taught more than 12 million people how to prevent violence and self-harm. Through these no-cost programs, Sandy Hook Promise has averted multiple school shooting plots, teen suicides, and countless other acts of violence.

Breakout Sessions 7-9

Wed, Feb 17 at 12:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

School Discipline, Safety, and Climate: A Comprehensive Study in New York City, Elise Jensen

As the first-ever comprehensive study of school climate, discipline, and safety in New York City, this study employed a rigorous mixed-method design with two research strategies: (1) a comprehensive quantitative analysis analyzing the effects of variations in school population characteristics, climate, and discipline and population characteristics; personal student characteristics; and (2) in-depth case studies in five schools using alternatives to suspension to explore on-the-ground implementation lessons. The quantitative analysis allows us to examine the intersecting effects of school-, and individual-level factors on school disciplinary outcomes/use of suspension; formal justice involvement; and academic outcomes. The qualitative findings highlight school safety, climate and culture, especially experiences with existing security measures; experiences and feedback about alternative approaches, including whole school approaches, prevention programs, guidance interventions and restorative approaches; how other schools might succeed in implementing similar practices. This study helps fill a gap in the scholarly literature on "what works" and has important implications for educators and justice policymakers nationwide.

Randomized Impact Evaluation of Capturing Kids’ Hearts Program, Thomas Hanson

The Capturing Kids’ Hearts (CKH) program is a school-wide, skill intensive, program designed to strengthen students’ connectedness to school through enhancing protective factors (strong bonds with teachers, clear rules of conduct that are consistently enforced) and targeting modifiable risk factors (inappropriate behavior, poor social coping skills). CKH trains all school staff to model and teach relational and problem-solving skills, communicative competencies, and consequential thinking. This study uses a cluster- randomized experimental design to examine the extent to which CKH reduces violence perpetration, victimization, and problem behaviors; enhances relationship bonds between and among students and teachers; and increase students’ social competencies and academic performance. Key outcomes include measures of (a) violence perpetration and victimization, (b) relationship bonds between and among students and teachers, and (c) personal and social competencies. Staff and student self-report survey data were collected in the spring prior to implementation of CKH and in the spring of the first and second implementation years. Archival record data was also collected to assess student attendance and discipline outcomes. Estimates of program impacts based on the staff surveys suggested that CKS had small but consistent positive impacts on various aspects of school relationships, student voice/disciplinary climate, and student behaviors, but no discernable impacts were detected on the outcomes assessed by student surveys. Archival data results were mixed, indicating that schools that implemented CKH exhibited greater increases in excused and unexcused absences and suspensions, but more pronounced declines in disciplinary referrals.

Comprehensive Assessment of School Climate to Improve Safety in Maryland Middle Schools, Catherine Bradshaw and Elise Pas

This study examined the efficacy of an adapted version of the Classroom Check-Up (CCU) teacher coaching model to address the detection of, prevention of, and responding to bullying. This teacher-randomized trial included 78 teachers who were randomized to the intervention (coaching with mixed-reality simulation) or comparison condition. We collected teacher surveys and classroom observational data for pre- and post-test. Intervention teachers were significantly more likely to report responding to bullying with referrals; to intervene with the victims and perpetrators; and to report adults at their school did enough to address bullying. This shows promise for this novel, teacher-focused intervention.

Improving School Safety in the District of Columbia: Lessons Learned From an Evaluation of Safe School Certification, Renee Ryberg

We present lessons learned from an evaluation of a model using technical assistance (TA) to guide schools through a framework to improve their organizational capacity and improve school climate. Despite implementation challenges with staff turnover and competing priorities leading to significant attrition, we found that students in schools receiving technical assistance for implementing the model had more positive changes in perceptions of school climate. These differences were quite small, and offer limited evidence that providing schools with TA to improve organizational capacity is associated with more positive school climate. The efficacy of capacity-building interventions may be limited by the very conditions that inspire them.

Wed, Feb 17 at 12:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Mixed-Methods Evaluation of K-12 School Security Professionals & School Resource Officers Online Training: Understanding Trauma and Social-Emotional Learning, Dorothy Espelage

School Resource Officers (SROs) and other school security professionals (SSPs) (e.g., security specialists, guardians) have become increasingly common in schools; however, most states do not require that these professionals receive training related to understanding trauma and/or how to promote social emotional learning competencies among students. The current project evaluated an online professional development program for SSPs that provides education on two topics related to best practices in working with youth in K-12 schools: Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). This study used a mixed-methods evaluation of these two modules. Quantitative results indicated that professionals in the intervention had significant improvements in trauma-informed knowledge and competencies compared to waitlist. Qualitative analyses indicated that school security benefited from the training and they expressed learning new strategies to serve and support students with known or unknown adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). School security personnel believe that being empowered with this knowledge has the potential to influence how they will work with students in the future. It is ethically important to train school staff to work with students in an equitable and informed manner.

Strengthening Culturally-Responsive Practices to Promote and Students’ Social-Emotional Wellbeing in Urban Schools, Jessika Bottiani and Duane Thomas

The presentation highlights takeaways from the Coping Power in the City (CPIC) project, in which Coping Power, a school-based, tier 2 preventive intervention, was culturally and contextually adapted for Black early adolescents transitioning to high school in a Mid-Atlantic city. The integration of a school police component into the intervention model was a novel feature. We report findings from CPIC project data showing buffering effects of culturally- responsive teaching and caring school police on the association between racial discrimination and school engagement. We preview future directions from CPIC, including an upcoming NIH-funded school-based project to promote teachers' cultural responsiveness and students' racial equity literacy.

An Evidence-based Approach to School Policing, Trevor Fronius, Kathy Martinez-Prather, and Brenda Scheuermann

The Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC), Texas State University and WestED have evaluated an evidence-based approach for integrating police into educational environments to enhance safety and climate. The TxSSC will present an overview of the SBLE framework for implementing school policing programs. WestEd will then discuss the challenges of carrying out a school safety study amidst the pandemic and the impact on the current study. Finally, WestEd will present preliminary findings on the impact of the framework on school-level estimates of short and longer- term school safety and climate outcomes, such as bullying and victimization, delinquency, and connectedness and safety. The presentation will conclude with next steps for the study and considerations for the field.

An Examination of School Policing Programs: Where We Have Been and Where We Need to Go Next, Joseph McKenna and Anthony Petrosino

In 2019, the NIJ was directed to provide Congress with a report on the state of school policing in the United States that examined the current role of police in schools and provided recommendations on how they can better serve the needs of the students. To address this directive, NIJ engaged two consultants to conduct a comprehensive literature review and examination of data sources, facilitate four days of expert panel discussions, and synthesize the results from these data collection efforts. This presentation will provide some of the highlights of the report. A focus will be placed on understanding the history of police in schools and how it has influenced where we are at today; the various ways in which police have been used in school; the roles police have in schools and how these have evolved; the state of training specific to police who work in schools; and the impacts school policing programs have had on students and schools. We will also provide a review of our expert panel meeting as well as offer some recommendations for improving research and practice in the area of school policing moving forward.

Wed, Feb 17 at 12:30 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Interconnecting PBIS and School Mental Health to Improve School Safety: A Randomized Trial, Mark Weist and Joni Splett

There is a pressing need for school safety efforts to move beyond physical hardening and reactive disciplinary strategies to advance prevention-oriented, comprehensive strategies that systematically address the underlying causes of common behavioral problems and infrequent incidents of violence. The Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) is a structure and process for promoting all students’ positive social, emotional, behavioral, and academic development while collaborating within schools to provide early access to a continuum of interconnected services when more supports are needed. In a randomized controlled trial funded by the National Institute of Justice, the ISF was implemented in elementary schools in two southern states and outcomes compared to schools implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) with and without co-located, but not interconnected, mental health services. Preliminary results suggest promising outcomes with more students in ISF schools being proactively referred for Tier 2 and 3 interventions, more interventions provided, and decreased in-school suspensions and office discipline referrals, including evidence for reducing inequities. In addition, student and teacher surveys documented higher respect, engagement, and perceptions of safety among students in ISF schools, as well as lower ratings of student acting out behavior. These results demonstrate the promise of the ISF for improving student well-being and reducing threats to school safety.

Project SECURE: A Multi-tiered Approach to Supporting Students Exposed to Trauma, Carl Sumi

In 2016 SRI International received a grant from NIJ to implement Project SECURE. The overarching goal of Project SECURE is to evaluate the impact of a multi-tiered evidence-based framework to strengthen the resilience of students who are the most vulnerable to disciplinary exclusion, gang involvement, and trauma. In this presentation authors will provide a brief overview of Project SECURE, the two interventions being studied (Second Step and Bounce Back), the screening process, and preliminary results from the study.

School Safety and School-Based Mental Health Services in a Large Metropolitan School District, Anna Yaros and James Trudeau

Evidence-based secondary and tertiary mental health programs in schools have the potential to impact an entire school population by reducing aggression and victimization and improving overall climate for students and staff (Ballard et al., 2014). RTI International partnered with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to study school safety using a school-randomized controlled trial (RCT) of three types of school-based mental health (SBMH) services and a quasi-experimental study that compared each of the three SBMH arms to a set of propensity score-matched, nonrandomized, non-SBMH comparison schools (n = 34 schools). Findings from staff surveys, student surveys, and administrative data did not show reliably improved school safety between treatment arms. Examination of implementation levels suggested that variability within treatment arm in levels of SBMH received by students predicted staff report, and to a lesser degree student report, of increased school safety. Specifically, the percentages of students seen for services by a school psychologist, school counselor, or SBMH therapist were related to increased feelings of safety and fewer unsafe incidents. A cost effectiveness analysis revealed that two levels of increased SBMH services were both more costly and more effective than SBMH treatment as usual. Implications for SBMH service provision will be discussed.

Promoting School Safety: A Comprehensive Emotional and Behavioral Health Model, Jill Bohnenkamp and Cindy Schaeffer

Schools across the nation are working to formulate comprehensive, evidence-based crisis response and prevention interventions to address student emotional and behavioral health crises. This presentation will describe the implementation of a multi-tiered comprehensive preventive intervention to promote school safety and research findings from a two-year randomized controlled trial of the intervention with 40 schools spanning elementary, middle and high school levels funded through the National Institute of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. The study evaluated the impact of the Emotional and Behavioral Health Crisis Response and Prevention (EBH-CRP) intervention on school safety outcomes, emotional and behavioral health service utilization and quality outcomes, educator knowledge and preparedness to address emotional and behavioral health concerns, and a cost-benefit analysis. Overall study findings will be presented including key findings highlighting that schools implementing the EBH-CRP model are minimizing the use of disciplinary procedures including suspensions, office discipline referrals and juvenile justice referrals as well as being more likely to respond with a therapeutic approach.

Plenary Discussion

Wed, Feb 17 at 2:15 pm EST

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Causes and Consequences of School Violence

Joshua Freilich
Jillian Turanovic
Patricia Campie
Dorothy Espelage

To prevent and appropriately respond to incidents of school violence, we must understand what factors contribute to various types of violence and how individuals, both victims and perpetrators, are impacted by that violence.  This discussion includes subject matter experts who have explored the root causes and consequences of school violence from different perspectives and considers policy implications associated with their work.

Emily Doolittle

Breakout Sessions 10-12

Wed, Feb 17 at 3:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Evaluating the Implementation of a Multicomponent, School-Based Mental Health Program: Lessons Learned from a Southeastern Site, Kristina Childs Fisher and Sara Bryson

In 2015, the Brevard County Public School System implemented a comprehensive mental health program in a K-12 feeder pattern comprised of four elementary schools and one middle/high school. The program components included placing one social worker in each school to train educators about youth mental health needs, administer a needs assessment to behaviorally challenged students, deliver emotion regulation lessons, and link students and families to needed community-based services. The evaluation of the program sought to examine the impact of these efforts on training participants, student participants, and among the full body of students and teachers at each school. We present five lessons learned through our efforts to develop and implement a rigorous evaluation of this multidimensional, school-based mental health program. Together, these lessons highlight the importance of collaboration, communication, and consistency.

School and Family Engagement – Trauma Informed (SAFE-TI) Research Findings and A District's Sustainable Path Forward, Marilyn King and Johanna Bertken

The SAFE-TI research project evaluated school safety impacts of multi-tiered, trauma-informed prevention efforts and interventions. The use of evidence-based approaches, in combination with professional development opportunities, and the formation of a student assistance specialist role for delivering interventions, resulted in positive qualitative changes in school culture and student outcomes. 

This presentation will provide an overview of the SAFE-TI research design, findings, and recommendations for enhancing student safety and resilience. It will also cover more recent initiatives to broaden and institutionalize the implementation of universal trauma-conscious educational practices. Participants will hear about the successes and challenges of moving away from a clinical model of service delivery that aims either to treat psychological problems or to punish deviant behavior and toward a model that leverages therapeutic relationships between staff and students in order to improve student outcomes.

Using Trauma-Informed Approaches in Schools to Foster Resilience among Urban Black Youth Exposed to Neighborhood Violence, Stacy Overstreet

Prior research has suggested that student perceptions of safety at school are likely to serve as a protective factor against the negative effects of exposure to neighborhood violence on student aggression. When students feel safe at school, they may be better able to fully engage in the cognitive processes that support behavior and emotion regulation. They are also more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior and feel empowered to talk about their experiences within the context of supportive relationships. The aims of the presentation are to: 1) present quantitative findings from a study of 611 3rd - 8th grade students demonstrating a positive association between exposure to neighborhood violence and student aggression as well as a negative association between student perceptions of safety and student aggression; 2) present qualitative data from students to understand the qualities of their school experience that make them feel safe and supported; 3) describe specific strategies within our trauma-informed schools model to enhance student perceptions of safety and build supportive student-teacher relationships as mechanisms to help students heal from trauma.

Wed, Feb 17 at 3:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Findings and Lessons from the School Emergency Preparedness Study, Suyapa Silvia

The purpose of this study was to describe the state of preparedness for violent emergencies such as active shooter events, in K-12 school communities in the U.S. Findings will be summarized from each phase of the study, including: 1) a content analysis of State Department of Education websites to identify guidelines and recommendations provided by states; 2) a national web-based survey of school districts, to learn about strategies used by districts with different characteristics; and 3) school-level telephone interviews in 36 well-prepared schools, to learn about best practices in emergency preparedness. The presentation will conclude with lessons learned and recommendations for future research.

Perception Versus Reality - Physical Security at K-12 Schools in Arizona, Thomas Foley

In 2015 the Sandy Hook Commission Report recommended schools use an emergency response time approach to security design, which involves delaying an attacker long enough for police to arrive. Unfortunately, there is no information available to schools about how long certain physical security measures will delay an attacker. A research team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is currently conducting research designed to help schools adopt an emergency response time based approach to physical security design. 

This presentation will give an overview of this research what the research team has learned during this on-going project.

Securing Schools? School Violence and Engagement with Security Measures in One Urban School District, Matthew Cuellar

This presentation examines the relationship between school security and school violence through two competing theoretical lenses: (a) opportunity theories of crime that suggest higher engagement with security should predict less school violence, and (b) a school criminalization perspective that suggests greater engagement with security should be unrelated to or even increase school violence. Findings highlight various associations between engagement with school security and non-serious violent crime and weapons-related crime. Further, it is suggested that this relationship is different for Hispanic and African-American students. Implications for practice, education, and research will be discussed.

Wed, Feb 17 at 3:45 pm EST

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Presentation Abstracts

Assessing a Comprehensive Framework to Reduce School Violence, Beverly Kingston and Alison Dymnicki

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV) partnered with educators in 46 middle schools to implement Safe Communities Safe Schools (SCSS). SCSS seeks to address behavioral incidents, mental, and behavioral health concerns, and increase prosocial behavior in schools through three core program components: developing a functioning multidisciplinary school team, building capacity around data use, and implementing an action plan using evidence-based programs. The study explored research questions in: readiness (whether schools met baseline criteria and experienced readiness changes over time), implementation (whether the SCSS model was implemented as intended), and associated outcomes (effects on school climate, safety, related behavioral and mental health indicators, and academic outcomes). CSPV and external evaluators from American Institutes for Research conducted a mixed-methods randomized control trial with a staggered implementation design using qualitative and quantitative data (focus group, staff and student school climate, and school record data). The study found that (1) participating schools met the pre-developed readiness criteria and reported some improvements in readiness constructs over time; (2) some components of the model were implemented as intended; and (3) there were mixed impacts on school climate, safety, behavioral and mental health indicators, and academic outcomes.

Project SOARS (Student Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility for School Safety): Successes and Challenges, Claudia Vincent and Dorothy Espelage

Project SOARS focused on the development, usability testing, field testing, and pilot testing of a student-centered and technology-driven comprehensive school safety framework for high schools. We first provide an overview of the framework components and their theoretical grounding in extant research. We then summarize the findings of each phase of the project, with particular emphasis on the findings from the pilot test. All student outcomes from the pilot test were in the desired direction. Intervention effects on student-reported school connection, sense of personal safety, and level of disruption reached statistical significance. Effect sizes ranged from small to medium, with the largest effect size in students’ perceptions of personal safety. We contextualize these findings in existing school safety policy recommendations, discuss persisting challenges with integrating student voice and leveraging reporting technology in school safety decisions, and provide suggestions for further research.

School-based Coordination & Integration Efforts as Part of a Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, Joseph McCrary and Christopher Henrich

A coordination & integration (C&I) process was used with a sample of middle and high schools in Atlanta. School teams used a data -driven process to identify goals and objectives related to school safety, map resources and coordinate activities to achieve those goals, and choose measurable outcomes to gauge their success. Technical assistance and $40,000 per school to support activities was provided.  A mixed methods approach is being used to evaluate the process and its outcomes. Focus groups, observations of school team meetings, and document review are being used to address research questions about the content and implementation of schools’ C&I plans, teams’ capacities and challenges faced, the role of technical assistance provided, and sustainability. Findings to date document challenges school teams faced in overcoming administrative and other barriers to C&I planning, and ways the technical assistance team adapted the process help school teams to develop and start implementing C&I plans. Quantitative analyses of state School Health Survey data are also being used to identify school-level climate and safety outcome measures. Using these outcomes, analyses will examine changes in schools’ safety and climate over time compared to other urban schools to examine the effectiveness of the comprehensive school safety initiative.

Developing a Longitudinal Dataset to Study the Relations Between Community and School Context and Student Outcomes, Maury Nation and Caroline Christopher

The Nashville Longitudinal Study of Youth Safety and Wellbeing is a CSSI-funded partnership between Vanderbilt University and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) to develop a multi-level longitudinal dataset to study youth safety and wellbeing. The resulting dataset includes longitudinal, geocoded data for more than 15,000 students in 144 schools. Also, the dataset includes measures of school characteristics and neighborhood context. This presentation will describe the process of developing the dataset and how we are leveraging this dataset to investigate research topics including the neighborhood, school, and student factors that influence students' social and emotional competence and behavioral outcomes.