Students who are higher academic achievers, have a greater attachment to their school and know of at least two security measures are much more likely to report a gun or knife on campus, according to a report by three Dallas researchers.
About 34 percent of 3,022 students surveyed had reported seeing or knowing about a weapon in school to an authority figure in the prior three months.
“This is happening more than adults realize,” said Nadine Connell, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas and an author of the study.
The study provides schools with ways to improve student reporting of weapons. It said they should highlight the number of security measures in place. They should also focus on programs that improve school climate, since students who are more attached to their schools were more likely to report weapons.
“We have to find ways to make sure students are going to inform the adults who can then take proper precautions necessary,” Connell said. “Many of the problems that students encounter cannot be dealt with unless adults are informed.”
High-school students at 10 schools in New Jersey took the online survey anonymously. The New Jersey Department of Education provided funding for the study through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.
Most of the students indicated they would tell an authority figure about a gun or knife at school. But they were more likely to tell parents or family members than principals, who can react faster.
“Unfortunately, in the event that students wait too long to contact authorities (for instance, by calling parents or family first), preventive efforts may not be relayed to the school until it is too late,” the study states.
Connell said it’s possible that principals are not as accessible because they are busy. She also said that some students might shy away from the attention that talking to a principal could bring.
Students also were unaware of many of the security measures at their campuses. All schools that participated used seven security measures listed in the study, including locking doors during the day and requiring visitors to sign in. But only 7.9 percent of students believed that their school used all the safety measures.
Other findings in the study include:
•Girls were more likely than boys to report a gun.
•Students who have seen a weapon in school had a decreased likelihood of reporting.
•21 percent of students said they would not tell their principal about a gun or knife on campus.
•76 percent of students said they would report a knife to a school official; 88 percent would report a gun.
•97 percent of students believed that their school had several security measures in place.
Connell said that statistics show that violent crime by young people has been decreasing for more than two decades. But she said there has been more attention on school violence because of events in recent years. In 2012, a gunman killed 26 children and staff members before taking his own life at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We thought it was really important to get a better understanding of some of the factors that are contributing to the violence that does exist,” Connell said.
Dallas ISD is among districts that reviewed their safety protocols in the days following the Newtown shootings. The districts looked beyond the standard measures of using metal detectors and school resource officers to keep kids safe.
DISD trustees approved up to $4.65 million in safety upgrades last year. The upgrades include more security camera systems, electronic card readers and door buzzers on school buildings, and one-way peepholes on portable building doors.
Connell’s co-authors on the study are Nina Barbieri, a UTD doctoral student in criminology, and Jennifer Reingle Gonzalez, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas.
Follow Tawnell D. Hobbs on Twitter at @tawnell