Supporting Individual Willingness to Report School Safety Concerns

Findings from the Literature and Interviews with Stakeholders Across the K–12 School Community

by Pauline Moore, Jennifer T. Leschitz, Brian A. Jackson, Catherine H. Augustine, Andrea Phillips, Elizabeth D. Steiner

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Research Question

  1. How can states, districts, and schools best encourage people, especially students, to report threats of school violence so that action can be taken?

Despite the consensus about the importance of violence prevention efforts in kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) schools, research has revealed little about how to promote reporting among people who become aware of possible threats so that action can be taken. The authors of this report believe that the effectiveness of different approaches to reporting is likely to vary considerably across different school contexts.

This report helps fill this gap by illuminating the variety of threat reporting models available to K–12 schools across the country, as well as how school leaders can support individuals' decisions to report threats in a way that will work best for their school environments.

This study drew on a review of the literature focused on threat reporting and threat reporting systems, with particular attention to how their design and structure, as well as student- and school-level factors, can affect student willingness to report potential threats. It also drew on more than 30 interviews conducted with stakeholders across the U.S. K–12 school community to identify current approaches to encourage reporting, strategies for success, and the challenges that schools and districts face in this area. Interviews with stakeholders at the state, district, and school levels provided insight into a varied set of reporting models in place across the country at state, school district, county, and community levels.

Key Findings

  • Strong relationships between students and school staff are essential to building trust and robust reporting cultures. Trusting school climates in which students feel comfortable going to an adult with their concerns are the foundation of productive approaches to reporting.
  • Approaches to reporting are likelier to support all members of the reporting community, including students, if they emphasize accessibility and cater to common ways in which today's student population communicates.
  • An anonymous reporting option can help address student fears of being ostracized by their peers as a result of reporting. Although anonymity poses some complications in following up on tips, stakeholders in the K–12 community across the United States agree that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
  • Reporting programs with the option to speak or chat directly with someone trained in crisis communication provide additional support and can lower barriers to reporting for those not comfortable speaking directly with law enforcement.
  • Building awareness and implementing training on the importance of reporting and how students can report information are critical to supporting people seeking to come forward.
  • Transparency in and communication of how schools act on information reported through a tip line or via other methods influence students' willingness to come forward.
  • Gaining buy-in from school leadership, teachers, and other school staff increases the chances that a reporting program will be effective and sustainable.

Recommendations

  • Increase opportunities for teachers and staff to interact informally with groups of students outside the classroom, and ensure that security personnel receive training to help them work and communicate effectively with the school community.
  • Make avenues available to students and other community members who want to come forward with information. Set up formal programs so that they offer widely accessible reporting platforms to students and the broader reporting community.
  • Communicate to potential and actual users of anonymous reporting systems when their anonymity could be forfeited, or have schools and districts host confidential systems that collect reporter information but keep it private.
  • Use trained operators to support people reporting suicidal ideation or self-harm. Decide who should be responsible for fielding reports and whether they will require law enforcement support to field and triage tips.
  • Make students aware of the means at their disposal and when and what to report. Build this knowledge through regular training and outreach.
  • Tailor training materials for relevance to specific school contexts and more resonance to many student bodies. Engage students themselves in training and outreach to lower barriers to reporting among their more-reluctant peers.
  • Publish annual and other periodic reports to the reporting community to increase transparency around critical issues, such as when information is shared with law enforcement and when situations are left exclusively to school administrators.
  • Offer clear guidance and training on staff roles in the reporting process, and provide staff with teaching material to increase students' knowledge about reporting.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Review of the Literature

  • Chapter Three

    Approaches to Threat Reporting in the K–12 School Community

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Implications for the K–12 School Community

  • Appendix

    Interview Protocol

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's (CISA) Infrastructure Security Division's School Safety Task Force and conducted by the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program with the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.