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UTSA professor leads effort to produce policy brief about weapons in schools

UTSA professor leads effort to produce policy brief about weapons in schools

Division 15 of APA produces policy brief about weapons in schools under the leadership of UTSA professor, Sharon Nichols.

(Feb. 14, 2019) -- One year after the Parkland, Fla. shooting tragedy that claimed the lives of 17 students and staff members, Division 15 of The American Psychological Association (APA) has released a research brief for policymakers to better understand how students and teachers are impacted by the presence of weapons in schools and to provide policy suggestions for ways to improve school safety nationwide.

Sharon L. Nichols, professor of educational psychology in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Education and Human Development and co-chair of the Policy and Practice Committee of APA Division 15 led the effort to produce this brief called “Reducing Weapons in Schools.” 

Nichols enlisted the expertise of Ron Avi Astor, Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Rami Benbenishty, professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to generate this important brief based on their research with schools in California. 

In this research brief, the authors summarize results from an analysis of data from more than half a million students in California. The data suggests that many California high school students have been affected each year by weapons on school grounds, either by bringing a weapon, being threatened by a weapon or seeing a weapon at school.

According to the data, almost 90 percent of California high schools have students reporting seeing a weapon on campus during the academic year. About 31 percent of California schools have at least eight percent or higher of students reporting being threatened by weapons on school grounds.

In addition, four percent of California students reported bringing a gun to school, eight percent reported bringing a knife and 6.8 percent reported they were threatened or injured with a gun, knife or club. 23.3 percent saw a gun, knife, or other weapon on school grounds.

The researchers say large-scale data suggests that weapons are present in schools far more than policymakers, the public and many school safety researchers realize and their presence is adversely affecting millions of students and teachers. They add that exaggerated emphasis on extreme instances of gun violence results in problem solving policies that tend to narrowly focus on gun violence rather than the more pervasive consequences of weapons in schools, more generally.  

The educational psychology experts suggest that policy and practice should reflect a “public health” prevention approach that supports and strengthens the educational mission of schools.

The authors have the following recommendations for policy and practice: 

Policies concerning weapons and safety should have a wide scope.

Policies should incorporate a public health prevention approach.

Policies should aim to promote supportive educational climates in schools rather than confining and punitive environments.

UTSA’s Sharon Nichols researches how educational policy shapes and directs teachers’ and students’ attitudes, dispositions and behaviors in classroom settings. She incorporates the student perspective and experience in her work to better understand how educational policy impacts their development and motivation.

Kara Soria

Read the research brief.

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