Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 /  [email protected]
Jason Fenster – 202.656.5336 / [email protected] 

Reassessing School Safety in Light of Yesterday’s Tragedy in Ohio
Avoiding ineffective policies in the aftermath 

As policymakers and the general public grapple with responding to and making sense of Monday’s tragic shooting in Ohio, the Justice Policy Institute, which has studied school violence prevention for more than a decade, emphasized that communities should increase the use of practices proven to keep schools safe, and avoid ineffective policies that would lead to worse outcomes for youth and communities.

“Yesterday was a tragic day in Ohio, and for all of us who want safe schools, and safe communities for our young people,” stated Tracy Velázquez, Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute. “As we all try to understand how and why an event like this happened, we need to soberly reflect on what really works to reduce school-violence and help at-risk kids before something goes wrong, and resist the temptation to seek solutions that sound tough, but are ineffective.”

Based on recent research conducted by JPI and leading educational researchers, practices proven to improve school safety include the following:

  • Implement evidence-based initiatives proven to improve safety in schools: School districts should work toward abandoning zero tolerance and law enforcement responses to student behavior and begin relying on evidence-based programs that include peer mediation, mentoring and peaceable education.
  • Hire more counselors: Guidance counselors and school psychologists are trained to be mentors and work with youth, and are a positive investment in schools. However, schools are not fully staffing according to accepted standards. The American School Counselor Association says that school counselors should consider their roles to include skills in conflict-resolution particular to schools, to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment, and to prevent and intervene in cases where there might be substance abuse issues or the potential for violence. Fully implemented guidance counselor programs have also been found to promote feelings of safety in both poorer and wealthier schools.
  • Invest in education over an increased justice system responses to student behavior. With the array of negative collateral consequences associated with involvement in the juvenile justice system, it is important that policymakers and administrators focus efforts to better our education system as opposed to relying on increased justice system interventions. Some ways to both improve student achievement and promote safer schools include increased hiring of quality teachers, staff, counselors, and other positive role models; building safe, clean schools; and providing training and supports for teachers and staff related to behavior management.
  • Avoid policies that will make schools less safe, and harm kids. Unnecessary referrals to the juvenile justice system disrupt a student’s educational process – practices that can lead to suspension, expulsion, or other alienation from school. These negative effects set youth on a track to drop out of school and put them at greater risk of becoming involved in the justice system later on, all at tremendous costs to the youth themselves, their families, their communities and to taxpayers. More police in schools, including School Resource Officers (SROs) have not been shown to create more safety, and can have negative impacts both on school environment and on youth, as schools rely on arrests rather than school-based responses, pulling youth into the justice system.

Today we know more about policies and practices that can keep our kids and communities safe and improve our education and justice system for all students. And with reported crime in schools at the lowest levels they have been since counting began in 1992, Velázquez added, “we must respond to yesterday’s tragedy in ways that are shown to both keep our kids safe and provide them with the best possible life outcomes.”

For our recent research on effective ways to improve school safety, see our report, Education Under Arrest.  For more information, please contact us at 202-558-7974.