Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

January 19, 2016

Under the weight of alarming media stories about violence in schools, a majority of administrators have adopted precautions to curtail such incidents, says a report from Ball State University.

“Reducing the Risks of Firearm Violence in High Schools: Principals’ Perceptions and Practices” surveyed 349 principals from across the country and found that 56 percent of administrators admitting that recent events in national media had influenced their schools to take precautions.

The study found more than one-third of the schools are offering gun violence prevention professional development programs such as bullying or violence prevention, active shooter training and identification of at-risk students.

“Violence is most disconcerting when it happens at schools because of the young age of the victims, the innocence associated with youths and the perceived randomness of the killings,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor at Ball State. “Fortunately, violent firearm deaths at schools are not common, but enough have happened to force administrators to look at ways to address any such violence.”

He co-authored the study with Erica Payton, another community health education professor at Ball State, and James Price, a health sciences professor at the University of Toledo. The study, the second of its type in the last decade, was published in the Journal of Community Health.

Problems outside school

Payton said Americans own an estimated 310 million guns, more than any other country. Among youths in 2013, there were 1,410 firearm homicides, 877 suicides, 124 accidental deaths, 38 deaths of undetermined intent and 20 deaths from legal intervention.

The study also found:

  • High school principals point to inadequate parental monitoring, subpar mental health services, harassment and bullying, and easy access to guns as main causes of firearm violence in schools.
  • About 41 percent said their schools were moderately susceptible to a firearm incident in the next three years.
  • Only 16 percent supported having school personnel carry guns, even though one in eight reported being contacted by parents about the possibility of armed teachers and administrators.
  • About 17 percent of respondents reported a firearm incident in the last five years.

Although many schools are taking precautions, the study also found that 60 percent of high schools have not taken any actions to train employees to deal with active shooters on their premises.

“Without practice and education, school personnel may not respond to an active shooter in their building in the most effective manner,” Price said. “At the same time, public health professionals need to work with school administrators to help them identify evidence based cost-effective methods of reducing firearm violence in schools.”

He also pointed out that two of the four leading perceived causes of school firearm violence were related to parental issues such as child-rearing practices and easy access to firearms.

“It may be that principals perceived student homes as playing a larger role than schools in reducing firearm violence,” Payton said. “If so, this may be one of the reasons more schools have not been proactive in implementing practices to reduce firearm violence.”

What’s effective?

However, there is a clear lack of empirical evidence of what works.

“Further research on firearm violence prevention measures that are effective could help remove the leading barriers to schools implementing better methods of protecting students from such problems,” Price said.

Payton thinks similar research should be conducted with a national sample of parents of high school students.

“By examining parents’ perceptions of what schools should do to reduce firearm violence, school administrators would have additional insights,” she said.