Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Indiana University professor examines how school violence was averted
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Staff at schools that experienced "near misses," where violence was averted in student-to-student hostage situations, attributed their success to luck. A little prodding by an Indiana University Bloomington education professor has revealed that the teachers and staff already had taken steps that worked in their favor at those crucial times.
Research on school violence typically examines situations where shootings or other forms of violence occurred. Jeff Daniels, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology in IUB's School of Education, is pursuing a different angle -- learning as much as he can about how nightmarish situations ended without a shot.
Daniels said the most prominent finding involves building relationships. The four schools he examined had policies in place that required teachers and staff to go out of their way to get to know students and to make sure every student had an adult to whom he or she could turn.
"These students (perpetrators) were not unknown," Daniels said, explaining that in many incidents of actual school violence, school authorities were not familiar with the perpetrators.
In the schools Daniels examined, teachers and staff established relationships with students in a variety of ways, including eating lunch with them, talking to them in the hallways and attending extracurricular activities. Other key findings include the following:
- Training is crucial. In all four incidents, teachers, security officers and administrators involved in the incidents had prior crisis training that involved lock downs and other drills.
- The schools had close relationships with local police. Three of the schools had an officer on campus at all times. The fourth employed a resource officer with a background in law enforcement.
- School authorities must be aware of what's going on in the schools. An important source of information, Daniels said, is the students. In one incident, a student who was late for class recognized a student on campus who had been expelled and should not have been on campus. The student told the principal, who initiated a lock down. The expelled student ultimately held a classroom of students hostage using knives.
A student used a gun to hold a classroom of students hostage in another incident. The principal, who knew the perpetrator, talked the student into surrendering. The resource officer, who also was in the room, never had to draw his gun.
Daniels interviewed teachers, administrators and security officers involved in incidents at three high schools and one middle school in the last two years. Three of the schools, which are not named in the research, are smaller, rural schools. The fourth is a larger, urban school. In the hostage situations, one student took a class hostage using a gun; in a particularly volatile situation, the expelled student took a class hostage using two kitchen knives, lunging at a principal and threatening a student; and a middle school student took another student hostage, using a knife and a gun, and attempted to leave the building. In the fourth situation, school authorities foiled a Columbine-like attack.
Daniels plans to interview staff at two more schools. Another phase of his research involves talking with perpetrators to find out "why they didn't shoot." As part of this, he will talk with students at schools that experience near misses to get their perspectives. He wants to accumulate enough information to create a violence prevention program that covers such issues as warning signs and hostage negotiation training.
Daniels presented his findings recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. He will report findings this fall at a convention of the American Society of Criminology.
For more information, contact Daniels at 812-856-8304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.