A Partnership Approach to Violence Prevention in Schools

By Dewey Cornell, Ph.D.,
Director, Virginia Youth Violence Project, University of Virginia.

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School shootings have generated a widespread misperception that schools are dangerous places requiring us to invest billions of dollars in building security measures. On the contrary, I testified at a Congressional hearing that schools are one of the safest places in our community. Although it has been reported that there have been more than 300 shootings at schools in the five years since the Sandy Hook shooting, CDC statistics tell us that there have been more than 500,000 shootings resulting in injury or death outside of schools. For every shooting in a school, there are 1,600 shootings outside of school. The real problem is gun violence, not school violence. Our tax dollars and human capital should be invested in preventing all gun violence, not just the tiny fraction that occurs in a school building. Our efforts to make our schools physically secure reduces funding available for prevention. Real prevention starts long before there is a gunman at the door. We need multi-tiered prevention programs that begin with making our schools psychologically safe and supportive climates where young people can learn and be successful, and include mental health services and threat assessment programs to intervene with troubled youth before their problems escalate into violence. The school threat assessment model we developed at the University of Virginia is a partnership approach in which a multidisciplinary team representing school administration, mental health, and law enforcement works to assess the seriousness of a student’s threat and respond with appropriate interventions. The team’s goal is both to prevent violence and to help the student resolve the underlying problem and be successful in school.