Virtual Conference on School Safety - Closing Message
On February 16-18, 2021, the National Institute of Justice hosted the Virtual Conference on School Safety: Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools. The conference offered a lot of opportunities to learn and discuss various topics related to school safety. This session will highlight key points of discussion throughout the conference. Thank you for joining us.
>> Good afternoon, everyone.
Here we are at our final session.
As I mentioned this morning, this session is really an opportunity to reflect on what we've learned and to consider where to go from here.
I'm going to share some of my thoughts and takeaways and will invite you to do the same.
Please use the Q&A box as you've been using throughout the conference to share your perspectives and - and also to share with us what you think we should be doing next to improve school safety.
What direction should this work take? We're really interested to hear that.
So, we talked throughout the conference about NIJ investments in school safety, and they've been unusually substantial.
We've made lots of - funded lots of projects.
And what has happened is we have seen produced and continue to see produced what sometimes really feels like a deluge of knowledge on how to improve school safety.
And that's wonderful.
It puts us in a position where we really need to think very thoughtfully about steps to take to consolidate and share that information with folks like you who are doing the work on school safety, taking that next steps for research.
And this conference has really been one step in that direction of sharing that information.
And we continue to take steps to sort of synthesize what we've learned and disseminate that information (audio break) continue.
So, some of my thoughts.
First, you know, like all of you, it was impossible for me to join all of the sessions, and so I look forward to going back to the recordings that will be available on the conference website in just a few days.
Going back and seeing the sessions I missed as well as sort of re-hearing some points that I - that really kind of hit home.
And some of those points that hit home for me, very early on in the conference there was discussion about the need for being very intentional about school safety work to facilitate success in that arena.
I really appreciated the hashtag norandomactsofclimate.
You know, our work is - is so intentional, and it makes sense that it is.
There were a lot of different sessions and a lot of different projects (audio break) and the importance of multidisciplinary teams in areas of school safety that ran the gamut from trauma and mental wellness and threat assessment.
So that was really an important theme.
It also struck me how there was a lot of consideration about preparing for implementation prior to the start of - of a project.
But at the same time, building the plane while flying.
Being able, you know, recognizing this need to kind of be adaptable as circumstances arise.
It also really hit home with me that there are some pieces to school safety that seem relatively easy to implement compared to others.
Right? Maybe that's locks on doors.
But at the same time, those things are part of larger comprehensive approaches, or can be part of larger comprehensive approaches, that call for consideration of a variety of issues.
Like school climate.
And physical safety.
And student behavior.
And we really need to sit back and remember, as our presenters sort of talked about and made various points to, that schools aren't blank slates when it comes to school safety.
They come to the table already with using various strategies and they face internal and external pressures to use, or not use, certain approaches.
And we know that the use - and are learning that the use of research evidence in itself is a challenge.
We talked about complexities associated with school violence perpetration and victimization.
So, for example, that - that some, but not all, individuals who perpetrate violence may previously have been victims.
We are learning that while we can, it is helpful to look to other studies of non-school violence, so violence that occurs off school grounds, on the streets, in our communities.
That can help us inform strategies to improve school safety.
But it's important to understand how school violence differs from violence - other violence - in the community.
And that there are lots of people that can help solve school safety problems, including students, and we should remember that.
A couple more thoughts.
How what we do in one area influences another.
For example, that focusing on student emotional wellbeing can help prevent violent acts.
And we have evidence of this.
And we can't forget that perspectives and perceptions of fear and violence are important.
They impact our feelings of safety and our behavior.
And those are really just a few thoughts that I want to share.
I look forward to hearing what you have to say in the Q&A.
I invite you to email me at NIJ if you want to share any thoughts of the conference.
And I also invite my colleagues at NIJ, Phelan and Nadine, to share any additional thoughts that they might have as you all start sharing your considerations and thoughts on school safety and next steps.
>> Sure. Nadine, would you like to begin or I can jump in? However you'd like.
>> I would be happy to begin.
Thank you, Phelan.
Hi, everyone. Again, my name is Nadine Frederique.
I am a Senior Social Scientist at NIJ and have been with you these past three days.
And what a wonderful three days it has been.
I think I've been impressed by a lot of things similar to what Mary mentioned.
One is who we've had at this conference.
So, our research experts who presented their research, our grantees who've been talking.
But also who've been attending and who have been participating.
It's been great to see teachers, school resources officers, school safety officers, national experts.
And we - just the range of people who are - are participating in this conference has been impressive.
It's been wonderful to be in the room with you all to hear you speak.
And to hear you question our research experts as they talk about their research.
So, the exchanges that I've witnessed have been wonderful and great.
We - this conference is happening in the midst of some challenges for our friends in Texas in the south and even for us in the northeast right now.
And so, just even that you all are with us here today, we commend you and we thank you for that.
There's a few stories that really stick out to me.
And so, in one of my first breakout panels, we were joined by a teacher from South Dakota who talked about how in the midst of Covid, her school has never shut down.
They've been in-person learning the whole time.
And how their thoughts and conceptions of safety have been affected by - by that.
And how that's different than the rest of the country.
So, this impact of Covid on how we conceptualize, understand, and react to school safety has been really a point of discussion that I - I think was really beneficial for all of us to hear.
Also thinking about evidence- based programs and practices, and the relationship between those public policies, and also looking forward to those unintended consequences, I really enjoyed the plenary discussion this morning and thought all the points that the researchers brought out were just really thoughtful, prescient, and really motivating for the future.
Part of my work at NIJ, some of the work that I do is about school resource officers.
And so, over the course of these three days, we've had a lot of debate about the role of law enforcement within schools.
So whether they should be there or they shouldn't be there.
Whether they decrease crime or they don't.
And so, it's really wonderful to hear from researchers such as Lucy Torison and John Bushway, who we just heard from today, talking about how the presence of school resource officers has decreased crime in some respects there.
But then also juxtaposing that with the research from Ben Fisher and Chris Curran looking at the activities of school resource officers.
They don't spend most of their time fighting crime when they're in schools, so they've got to do something else, and how there's a racialized context of some of the school policing that happens as they're executing their duties within schools.
So, as a field, when we're talking about school safety, we have to grapple with that.
That's not an easy yes or no question, and I think it's really important for all of us to kind of grapple with these things as we move forward and think about the role of police in schools for the future.
Speaking about the future, it's really important to consider what is the future going to look like? You know, we are still in a pandemic, and so that's really affecting our schools and our education.
But another thing that was brought up was about the mental health and wellbeing of students, parents, and teachers.
And the post-Covid world, whenever that happens, hopefully sooner rather than later, when people are returning back to school, what are we going to be dealing with in terms of school safety? You know, what about the mental health and behavioral health impacts of quarantining and being home? And how do we prepare for that? You know, how do we not let it be reactionary? But what resources schools need and how do we as researchers help in any way that we can support schools - support schools that we're working with as they're moving to that.
One final note I just want to point out is that I've really been excited at the level of engagement throughout the conference.
And just seeing that everyone's passion for school safety has not dimmed in the least bit as we've been doing this work.
And so, we know this work is going to continue in the future, and we look forward to partnering with you at NIJ as we continue to work on this important research.
Phelan? >> Yeah.
>> Thanks, Nadine.
>> Thanks, Nadine.
And thank you, Mary.
I'm happy to share some of my thoughts, too.
I thought those were great observations, and, you know, I've been participating over the last few days and thinking about what takeaway messages I have for this.
And so, some of this may seem to touch on some of the same issues that you've just heard, but I guess the way I looked at it is to really think about fundamental principles here.
And some of these things may seem fairly evident or obvious, but I think they are still important to emphasize certainly to the broader audience.
First, really starting from the fundamental point that school safety is - is an essential issue.
It's not a - it's not some kind of add-on or something that is just attached to the primary purpose of the school because, really, without safety students don't learn and teachers can't teach.
And so, we know that those feelings of safety and the - the reality of safety in a school environment is essential.
And that there are no easy fixes.
That, you know, in trying to respond to this, there are certain principles that we should really try to adhere to.
One of the things we sometimes see in - in a policy or practice setting, particularly when folks feel like it's an add on, is, you know, I'm going to do one thing, try to swing for the fences and deal with this whole issue in one fell swoop.
That doesn't show the kind of commitment that really is required to address school safety in these complex settings.
And - and recognizing, as, you know, Nadine was talking about the issues around Covid, I have two teenage children myself.
And, you know, the fact we need to recognize is that school safety challenges change over time.
And each year there's a whole new cohort of students coming in, and there are changes that are constantly emerging in the school environment.
So, while it's great to have certain personnel who are primarily committed to focusing on school safety issues, it's really an issue that everyone, every stakeholder has a role in.
And I just got finished overseeing a panel that was really focused on the role of teachers and the psychology of teachers who can be victims of, you know, violence or other sort of safety issues.
But they can also be perpetrators.
And they are also playing this important role in terms of sending messages to students around issues like bullying and proper interactions.
And so, there's so many ways that we need to be thinking about teachers as - as key players because they're the primary face to the students.
And the primary interface with the parents and the students from the school environment.
We need to play the long game.
That is that we - the points that we heard about when Nicole Hockley was speaking from Sandy Hook Promise.
You know, think upstream.
The things that can be done early on with regards to building relationships, things around school climate.
Really the things that may seem like small things can have a large impact on reducing the chance for serious violence later on.
Also, those small things are often less costly to address.
So, the other point I would make would be about the importance of policy and practice.
How we develop it.
How we develop it in terms of using research to inform that.
How we go about assessing our policies and practices.
And reassessing those as necessary.
Data collection, developing metrics, these types of things are critical.
And, of course, research and evaluation to continue to refine our understanding of what works.
We talked about it in one of our sessions earlier today that - that this idea of evidence-based practice isn't simply a - it's not a binary issue, it's not a - is it evidence based or isn't it? It's really a question of a continuum.
And there's a process that needs to continue playing out as schools put into practice programs and activities that are intended to increase safety.
We need to measure that.
We need to assess it.
We need to be looking at the best information we can collect to understand if this is actually having the types of effects that we're hoping for.
Because, as we've seen, sadly, there are some things that have, you know, can have unintended negative effects.
And we can see that there are sometimes policies that simply don't work to, you know, prevent or address the safety issue that we're trying to address.
So, those are a few of my thoughts.
I really appreciate all the participation in the conference.
We're so proud of all the presentations and all the work that's been done under the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative.
There's more to come. We continue to work on this topic.
NIJ continues to be very committed to supporting research on school safety.
So, with that, I'll say my farewell and turn it over to Mary.
>> Thanks, Phalen.
It's really helpful to hear your reflections over these three days.
And I know how dedicated those of us at NIJ have been and sort of focusing on these - on these various school safety projects that we've heard about as well as others around the country that we follow and are definitely learning from.
And, again, thanks to our audience for coming and joining us for this virtual conference.
I really appreciate, as Phelan said, your - your investment of time.
And I - I encourage you, as I mentioned, we'll have the sessions live up on the conference website after.
We may distribute those recordings or information from the conference in another way to a wider audience, so please pay attention to NIJ.
And, again, if you have any final thoughts that you want to share about school safety, you're invited to send me an email, and I'd be happy to hear whatever it is that you have to share.
So, with that, I will close the conference and wish - and wish all of you well.
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