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6.1. Interventions to strengthen security

A disturbing feature of school shootings is that sometimes heavily
armed students have succeeded in carrying into schools undetected
guns, ammunition, and explosives. As a result, increasing security and
limiting access are often identified as high priorities in deterring
school violence. Many schools limit access and egress, and many
conduct routine or random searches of school bags and lockers. Some
schools have installed metal detectors, although these efforts are more
common in large, urban schools (Juvonen, 2001). Recent reductions in
the numbers of students who carry guns to school (CDC, 2005a) may
be a reflection of these changes.
In addition, the introduction of police in the role of school resource
officers (SROs) into the school environment is a related effort to
increase deterrence; to provide the capability of responding quickly to
crises; and to afford a visible sense of security to students, teachers,
staff, and parents. At the same time, the activities of SROs are often
focused on increasing bonding at schools. Although the presence of a
uniformed police officer may help to create a sense of safety at school,
it is unknown whether an officer's presence may also contribute to an
atmosphere of fear, which could adversely affect the school climate
(Juvonen, 2001). Most schools appear to regard SROs as contributing
to security, and in at least one instance (Orange High School in
Hillsborough, North Carolina) a SRO was credited with disarming a
shooter before major injuries occurred (Rocha, 2006).
Complementing changes in the ease of access to schools and the
growing presence of SROs, many school districts have adopted policies
that concomitantly reinforce prosocial behavior and provide added
resources for needy or disruptive students. These policies range from
anti-bullying and dress code policies to referral and support for youths
who are alienated or victimized. Such policy changes also include an
expanded use of suspension or expulsion. Many school districts have
developed magnet, alternative, and charter schools that offer educational
programs for youths who cannot benefit from routine classroom
settings (Quinn, Poirier, Faller, Gable, & Tonelson, 2006). The
impact of these programs on school violence is unclear but they
provide an additional resource for students.

6.2. Interventions to strengthen the school climate

Interventions aimed at increasing school bonding and connectedness
focus on fostering trust between staff and students, increasing
student involvement, and eliminating social stratification. Activities
often center on reducing peer rejection, strengthening school
attachment, and breaking down codes of silence. Although these
programs take different forms, they typically include school policies
that promote participation in extracurricular activities, rules prohibiting
bullying and other forms of social aggression, and protocols for
training students and teachers in problem-solving methods to
promote conflict resolution. The latter may include programs to
mediate disputes among peers, to strengthen social skills, and to
promote social or character development. Examples of these programs
include Second Step (Frey, Nolen, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005), the
Seattle Social Development Project (Catalano et al., 2004), and Responding
in Peaceful and Positive Ways (Farrell, Meyer, & Daulberg,

6.2.1. Second Step

The Second Step program uses group modeling, anger management,
and group discussion to increase students' social competence,
decision-making ability, goal setting, and empathy levels. The
program is designed for preschool through middle-school students
and is implemented through the classroom (Committee for Children,
2007). Lessons are based on interpersonal situations and include
presentation of photographic images depicting specific social situations.
Trained facilitators or teachers then guide discussion related to
the situation. The program provides training for teachers in administering
the program, and both the content and number of lessons are
adjusted for student age.
The Committee for Children and the University of Washington
collaborated on a 2-year study to assess the effectiveness of Second
Step in a sample of 15 schools that involved a total of 1253 students in
eight intervention schools and seven control schools. The results
indicated that students who participated in Second Step were 42% less
aggressive and 37% more likely to choose positive social goals as
compared to their counterparts in the control group schools. Moreover,
Second Step participants required 41% less adult intervention in
minor conflicts, and showed 78% greater improvement in teacher
ratings of social competence (Frey et al., 2005). An independent study
of the Second Step program and five other social and character
education programs is currently funded by the U.S. Department of
Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

6.2.2. Seattle Social Development Project

The Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP) is one of the first
elementary-school delinquency prevention projects. A longitudinal
research study, SSDP began in 1981. The purpose of the project was to
reduce the risk factors that contribute to delinquency and drug use.
Classroom based, SSDP promoted social competence, prosocial behavior,
and school bonding (Catalano et al., 2004). A longitudinal followup
study of 605 participants found that, when compared with
nonparticipants, SSDP participants who received the full intervention
program functioned significantly better on 7 of 8 work and school
outcomes: (a) constructive engagement at school or work; (b) high
school completion; (c) 2 years or more of college; (d) school
integration; (e) employment status; (f) job responsibility; (g) total
years at present job; and (h) constructive self-efficacy. Moreover, SSDP
participants reported better regulation of emotions and fewer symptoms
of social phobia and suicidal thoughts (Hawkins, Kosterman,
Catalano, Hill, & Abbott, 2005; Hawkins et al., 2007).

6.2.3. Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways

The classroom-based Responding in Peaceful and PositiveWays (RIPP)
program focuses on teaching conflict resolution skills. The problemsolving
curriculum was delivered over 3 years to middle-school youth
(grades 6, 7, and 8). RIPP curriculum centers on stereotypes, beliefs,
attributions, and scripts that contribute to violence (Farrell et al., 1996;
Farrell, Meyer, & White, 2001). In the Richmond, Virginia public school
system, a sample of 626 sixth graders from three regular education
classrooms were randomly assigned into either a treatment condition
that received RIPP or comparison(no treatment) condition. Themajority
of the sample was African American (96%), and both conditions had
equal numbers of boys and girls. Compared to students who received
RIPP, students in the comparison group were 4.9 times more likely to
have an in-school suspension and 2.5 times more likely to have a fightrelated
injury. Students in the intervention group showed greater
knowledge of problem-solving skills (adjusted means=8.9 vs. 7.0,
pb.001; Farrell et al., 2001).
A variety of other programs use similar approaches including
FAST Track (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group [CPPRG],
2002, 2006, 2007); PATHS (Kam, Greenberg, & Kusche, 2004); Making
Choices (Fraser et al., 2005); and Life Skills (Botvin, Griffin, &
Nichols, 2006), and have evidence supporting their effectiveness
Some of these programs involve complex teacher, parent, and
school-level elements that require extensive organizational commitments.
Other programs are classroom-based curricula that may be
adopted by teachers as a part of routine instruction. These classroom-
based programs tend to require minimal parent involvement
and they have lower school burden. Though they may be as effective
as more comprehensive programs (Wilson & Lipsey, 2007), their
long-term effects are less certain. The multilayered, more complex
programs, such as SSDP, FAST Track, and Life Skills, have been shown
to affect distal outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood
(Botvin et al., 2006; CPPRG, 2007; Hawkins et al., 2007). However,
although many programs have shown efficacy in reducing aggressive
behavior and delinquency, no programeffect has been demonstrated
effective on relatively rarely occurring events such as school
shootings or bombings.

7. Discussion

More is known about school shootings in which the shooter is a
student rather than an adult exploiting the vulnerability of the school
setting. On balance, adult shooters appear to select a school as a
convenient setting in which to commit mass violence. Much of the
emerging knowledge about shootings is derived from case studies of
shooting events and, because shootings in which a student is the
perpetrator are more frequent, we are beginning to make sense of
these seemingly nonsensical events.
This emerging body of research, which is primarily characterized
by case studies, case comparison, and anecdotal media reports, has
given rise to an overarching strategy. As a first step, risk factors that
are subject to change by altering conditions and processes within
schools and neighborhoods must be identified. Once identified, the
second step involves matching these risk factors to procedures
designed to affect change, such as strategies that alter school ingress
and egress, routines that formalize referral protocols with local mental
health authorities with expertise in working with potentially violent
students, and processes that open the lines of communication among
students, teachers, administrators, and parents. These strategies
should be based on the best information currently available and
grounded in the literature of prevention science.
A number of malleable risk factors have been identified. Risk
factors at the student level include alienation from school, rejection
and victimization by peers, access to guns, practicing with guns,
and leakage of plans. Furthermore, these individual level factors
themselves have known predictors. For example, poor social
problem-solving skills is predictive of relational problems with
peers, low school involvement is related to alienation, and exposure
to violent media is related to views about the use of weapons to
resolve disputes (Cauffman, Feldman, Waterman, & Steiner, 1998;
Moore, Petrie, Braga, & McLaughlin, 2003; Nansel et al., 2003;
Rudatsikira, Singh, Job, & Knutsen, 2007). Risk factors that have been
identified at the school level include high social stratification; low
school bonding; inconsistent rule enforcement; poor security
(including monitoring and communication); norms supporting
social aggression (including bullying); and ill-defined response
systems (including procedures for teachers who are alarmed by the
behavior or work of students). Similar to the process used in the
Communities That Care Prevention Operating System (Catalano,
2007), a process of identifying risks and matching those risks to
discrete interventions is recommended. This process should produce
a multi level response, including collaboration among educational,
juvenile justice, and mental health authorities.

7.1. Six strategies to address malleable risk factors

From the literature, six strategies have emerged that could reduce
the vulnerability of schools to a shooting event: (a) strengthening
school attachment; (b) reducing social aggression; (c) breaking down
codes of silence; (d) establishing resources (e.g., screening, assessment,
and intervention) for troubled and rejected students; (e)
increasing security; and (f) bolstering communications within the
school and between the school and community agencies. If implemented
successfully, programs based on these six strategies are likely
to reduce social stratification, increase school bonding, and provide
early intervention to ostracized and angry students who, if exposed to
other risk factors, may have a higher likelihood of violence. However,
these six strategies are likely to affect student shooters more than
adult shooters, for whom the central school-based deterrent may only
be the physical security of a potential target.

7.1.1. Strengthening school attachment

Strengthening school attachment entails increasing the investment
of students and staff in the school community. No shooting has
involved a student who was attached and committed to school. Large,
academically competitive schools with high levels of social stratification
appear to be especially vulnerable to poor school attachment.
Developing curricular and extracurricular programs with wide
participation by students contributes to a sense of belonging, which,
in turn, decreases alienation and reduces hostility that can motivate
individuals' depression and anger.

7.1.2. Reducing social aggression

Unlike physical aggression, social aggression (e.g., teasing,
taunting, humiliation, and bullying) has curried less attention in
prevention efforts. However, research suggests that social aggression
is an important predictor of developmental outcomes for both
victims and perpetrators (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Galen & Underwood,
1997; La Greca & Harrison, 2005; Rudatsikira et al., 2007). The
impact of social aggression is easily underestimated because of its
covert nature. Although social aggression is clearly related to low
school attachment, high social stratification, peer rejection, and peer
victimization, the question of how to change these social dynamical
patterns of aggression remains unanswered.
Some social skills training programs, such as Making Choices, have
demonstrated positive effects on social aggression in elementaryschool
students (Fraser et al., 2005), and bullying preventions
programs appear to produce positive effects on social aggression in
middle- and high-school students (Orpinas & Horne, 2006). Though
teachers may witness socially aggressive behavior in the classroom,
social aggression occurs more often in informal settings where
teachers are not present. Social and character development programs
that more broadly address norms for peer relations and expectations
for peer-related behavior may offer promise.

7.1.3. Breaking down codes of silence

Codes of silence not only provide protection for potential
shooters but also characterize school climates of mistrust. Students
are more likely to report concerns about fellow students if (a) a
school provides an anonymous mechanism for voicing concerns,
(b) students' concerns produce visible action, and (c) disclosures are
treated discreetly.

7.1.4. Establishing resources for troubled and rejected students

A concerted effort is needed to address the social and emotional
needs of students. Community mental health systems need to work
closely with schools to develop protocols for assessing the mental
health needs of students, especially those that show evidence of
suicidal ideation, depression, and anger. Establishing routine and
emergency modes of communication — especially high priority
referral protocols — could reduce the likelihood of students falling
between the cracks and acting out against the school. Ethical and
legal considerations (e.g., what constitutes a breach of confidentiality,
and when is that breach necessary) should be clarified in advance and in writing by schools and mental health agencies.
Collaboration among mental health agencies and school personnel
can provide students with the resources they need to stay involved in
the school environment.

7.1.5. Increasing security

Increasing security by adding to human resources or altering the
physical environment can reduce vulnerability and enhance connectedness.
Although there are no systematic evaluations of the effects of
SROs, anecdotal evidence has suggested that “target hardening”
strategies such as altering ingress and egress, installing metal
detectors, and increasing security alters perceptions of the threat of
detection and produces a deterrent effect. In addition, increasing the
human resources dedicated to security may have an indirect effect on
vulnerability. As a symbolic representation of school commitment to
safety, the presence of a SRO may increase confidence and decrease
feelings of vulnerability for teachers, students, and parents (Finn,
2006). This increased perception of school security, in turn, has the
potential to bolster school attachment and promote breaking down
codes of silence.

7.1.6. Increasing communications within school and between the school
and agencies

Because most school shooters leak information prior to an attack,
increasing communication within the school and the school community
may provide authorities with sufficient early warning to save
lives. In the event of an attack, rapid communication can assist in
instructing students to take cover or to evacuate safely to secure
campus locations. In addition, effective communication may help to
identify the location of an attacker and to disrupt a developing event.
Ideally, two-way communication is needed but even one-way
communication may be effective. For example, during a recent school
shooting in a Cleveland high school, the principal used the school
intercom to announce a “code blue,” meaning that the school was
under attack. Students hearing the announcement were able to avoid
the shooter by taking cover (CNN, 2007b).
The increased accessibility and use of text messaging via cell
phones may also provide a venue to quickly alert the school
community of a possible shooting. Mass text message alert systems
are under consideration by many colleges and universities in which a
large percentage of students, teachers, and administrators own
personal cell phones, most with text messaging capabilities. Utilizing
a line of communication that is already normative could be a powerful
tool in disseminating important lifesaving information.
More broadly, protocols for communicating and assessing threat
potential should be established. In universities and high schools,
English faculty teach required courses and are often exposed to a
majority of students. This interaction allows these faculty unusual
opportunities to identify troubled and potentially violent students
because essays and compositions can reflect the mental state of the
writer. Prior to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, English
teachers sought assistance and made referrals that, if properly
evaluated, might have averted disasters.
Guidelines should be developed that outline referral and assessment
procedures for students whose writings may present leakage or
whose class behavior may be alienating or intimidating to either
faculty or other students. These guidelines should support teachers in
making judgments that must counterbalance privacy and academic
freedom with public safety. In addition, the ethical and legal
vulnerabilities of teachers who choose not to report need to be
described, and an evaluative procedure for assessing teacher referrals
should be established. This procedure might, for example, involve
discreet and rapid review by a panel of experts from school, juvenile
justice, and mental health authorities. Successful implementation
depends upon collaboration and creating safe, supportive, and
confidential structures for teachers.

8. Making sense of what makes no sense

Fortunately, school shootings are rare events. However, each time
one occurs, it displays the unsettling susceptibility of schools and
universities to acts of violence. Although events are unique, patterns
across events have emerged. From case comparisons, media reports,
and expert testimony, we described six strategies to strengthen
school bonding, to identify troubled and potentially violent youths,
and to respond rapidly in the face of a threat. Much more could be
said about rapid response, about Special Weapons and Tactics
(SWAT) teams, and about evacuation as efforts to reduce injuries
(e.g., Browman, 2001). However, we have focused on the social and
psychological conditions that, if addressed, could reduce vulnerability
and strengthen school experiences for all children

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