Bringing Evidence-Based Decision Making to School Safety

Micere Keels | The University of Chicago

Breaking Down the Issue

  • We can expect an increase of students, particularly Black students, experiencing and displaying behavioral dysregulation at school, as well as students whose behavioral challenges signal a need for support rather than disciplinary sanctions and policing.
  • Over the past 30 years there has been a dramatic rise in the prevalence of police officers stationed in school buildings; the overwhelming majority of officers have minimal training on practices that meet the developmental needs of children and youth. Increased police presence in schools is associated with increased “detection” of security incidents, but there is no evidence that police in schools have increased student safety or improved school climates.
  • There are large racial and ethnic disproportionalities in exposure to police officers in schools and in the negative effects of increased police presence in schools.

Strategies to Consider

  • Research consistently places practices to improve mental health as well as social and emotional skills at the center of evidence-based school safety interventions.
  • Strong information-gathering and information-sharing protocols, coupled with a culture of caring, are necessary for proactively monitoring the school climate and identifying students who need targeted mental health supports.
  • Information-gathering and information-sharing protocols will improve school safety only if schools also have a plan for delivery of school-based mental health services, as well as robust referrals and followthrough for nonschool mental health services.
  • School climate interventions are an effective way of proactively providing social and emotional supports that have been shown to improve school safety.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Efforts to shift to the use of social and emotional strategies will likely be unsuccessful at advancing safety if schools are not allowed to preserve funding that had been allocated for police officers.
  • Strategies that emphasize the maintenance of police presence by focusing on increasing funding for specialized training have shown little usefulness in reducing the criminalization of student behaviors.