How Can You Prevent School Violence in Texas?

January 20, 2017
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

76% of campuses report that violence prevention training would be “moderately,” “very,” or “extremely” useful, according to a new whitepaper on school violence prevention in Texas.

This is because when it comes to keeping their schools safe, staff want to know what works and what doesn’t.

Imagine this: You’re alone with a student who’s threatening you. You’re not sure if it’s just their hands in their pockets, or something else. A gun. A stapler. A weapon of any sort.

What do you do?

The policy whitepaper, produced by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, outlines what resources are available to you as an educator in Texas—so that situations like this don’t happen at all. It also makes recommendations to Texas legislators for mandating more safety measures.

Below is an overview of the resources and recommendations presented in TCCRI’s whitepaper. You can also download the report in full: Texas School Violence Prevention [PDF].

Current laws, policies, and regulations

The report breaks down how school violence prevention in Texas is currently supported by federal, state, and local efforts, such as:

Federal research and supports
The DOE, the DOJ, and the CDC publish a variety of data on school violence throughout the US. Overall, the data suggests that while violence is decreasing, schools are underequipped to reduce violence further, due to limited funds and a lack of programs.

In fact, federal research indicates that only 48% of schools provide staff with training in “recognizing early warning signs of students likely to become violent.”

That is, across the country there’s a lack of training in how to prevent violence.

Yet there are some federal grants and programs that support violence prevention. These include the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, the Project Prevent Grant Program, and the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV).

National guidance
The DOE’s Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline [PDF] offers educators across the country a set of principles to follow, including “Provide regular training and supports to all school personnelincluding teachers, principals, support staff, and school-based law enforcement officerson how to engage students and support positive behavior.”

While it’s not a legislated mandate, the guidance states that “when equipped with strategies for responding to inappropriate student behaviors, staff can help promote positive student behavior.”

It further advises that “Training on more specific strategies may also include the use of tiered supports, de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution, age- and developmentally appropriate responses, and crisis management.”

Action Step 4 of the guidance details that “Schools should provide all school-based personnel who interact with students with effective professional development and ongoing support.” It states that this includes teachers, principals, support staff, social workers, school resource officers, school-based police, and on-campus security and law enforcement professionals.

The TCCRI’s whitepaper suggests that this guidance from the DOE can help Texas schools and districts reduce violence.

Texas state policies and resources
Texas HB 2684 requires school resource officers to receive de-escalation training. The TCCRI suggests that while this law is a positive start, it does not “cover school employees other than peace officers and resource officers, nor does it cover districts with fewer than 30,000 students.”

To meet this law’s requirements, more than 1,400 law enforcement officers have taken training with curriculum created by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), which overlaps “to a significant degree both with programs utilized by districts and with privately-provided options like CPI’s,” the white paper states. The training also “overlaps with programming by Texas State University’s School Safety Center (TxSSC).”

The white paper further cites several Texas state laws such as SB 460, which requires state teaching certificate candidates to receive training in mental and emotional disorder intervention.

In addition to state regulations and federal guidelines, Texas is guided by the TxSSC, which offers numerous resources, including:

  • Events such as summits, conferences, and symposiums
  • Tools such as the School Pipeline Safety Toolkit
  • Videos such as 3 Simple Steps to Creating Safe Schools

The center also conducts school safety surveys and reports.

Like the TxSSC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) offers resources for educators. According to the TCCRI whitepaper, TEA statistics suggest that during the 2014–15 school year:

  • School suspensions decreased
  • Expulsions held steady
  • Firearm/illegal knife-related incidents held steady
  • “Terroristic” threats increased
  • School-related gang violence and fighting/mutual combat decreased

That said, the TCCRI “recommends that TEA change the way it collects and aggregates data—in order to know, on an ongoing basis, whether prevention efforts are working and what the incidence of school violence really is, statistical comparisons over time are needed.”

The TCCRI whitepaper also outlines individual school and broader districts’ efforts, noting that Austin ISD submitted a document to the state outlining “14 teacher training initiatives and 18 student-focused programs aimed at reducing violence.”

Why do kids commit violence?

Section III of the whitepaper examines why students get violent in the first place, noting that there can be “myriad causes, often overlapping, interdependent, and difficult to untangle.” The paper then explores factors that sometimes contribute to violence, such as:

  • Bullying
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Peer influence
  • Suspension
  • Criminal involvement

Most importantly, the TCCRI notes that:

“School violence is carried out by student perpetrators that may act out for a variety of reasons, and based upon a variety of influences. Thus, prevention strategies enacted by the legislature must take into account the complexity of overlapping causes and seek to incorporate them into program design.”

From there, the whitepaper examines research into topics such as:

  • Restorative justice vs. zero-tolerance policies
  • Social media, cyberbullying, and cyberviolence
  • Prevention and mentoring programs
  • De-escalation programs

It concludes with recommendations to legislators and policymakers in Texas.

TCCRI recommendations

Based on its analysis of research, the TCCRI recommends that Texas lawmakers:

  • Mandate that the TEA conduct statewide surveys of all schools to collect data on topics such as safety and discipline practices, violence prevention training, and procedures for active shootings and suicide threats.
  • Mandate that the TEA chart data chronologically, to ease year-to-year comparisons.
  • Require TEA reports to be modeled after the data collection model presented in School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender by Rami Benbenishty and Ron Avi Astor.

The TCCRI also suggests that Texas legislators reform the TxSSC to allow for a broader range of programming and partnering with providers such as CPI, and:

  • Legislatively address how schools should handle special education students who are disruptive or potentially violent—when there are no alternative placement options.
  • Require districts to provide training to other staff in addition to special education staff.
  • Expand TCOLE training to include school employees in addition to peace officers and resource officers, and to include smaller districts that have fewer than 30,000 students.

What do you think?

Here at CPI, this report reminds us how important it is that we all do what we all do: strive to educate each other and keep each other safe.

So let us know: What violence prevention measures do you use in your school? What are your challenges and successes? Which staff get training? What would you like to see passed in Texas legislation?

Please share in the comments, or give us a call. We love to talk with you and share strategies on how to make your school safer!

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