- Individuals are more likely to report school safety threats if schools use common communication methods and accessible reporting approaches, according to a RAND Corp. study released Thursday.
- While anonymous reporting approaches can pose some complications for following up on tips, K-12 stakeholders agree that option helps alleviate student fears of being ostracized by their peers as a result of reporting.
- As many school systems work to improve safety protocols in light of increasing campus shootings, attention should be paid to building trusting relationships and transparency about communications so people feel comfortable reporting threats, the RAND study recommends.
RAND researchers reviewed literature focused on threat reporting, including the design and structure of threat reporting systems. They also looked at student- and school-level factors to understand student willingness to report potential threats.
Included in the researchers' work were more than 30 interviews with K–12 stakeholders to identify approaches to encourage reporting, as well as challenges schools and districts face.
For instance, reporting systems with a chat option providing real-time dialogue between the person reporting the threat and someone trained in crisis communication lower barriers for those not comfortable speaking directly with law enforcement, the study found.
Trained operators can also provide immediate support to people reporting suicidal thoughts or self-harm, according to the study.
Tip lines should be easily accessible and allow for anonymous reporting, experts say.
In a 2019 RTI International survey of 1,226 principals, three-fourths said tip lines made them more aware of safety issues at their schools, and 50% said their schools’ tip lines had prevented violent incidents.
The RAND study also recommended:
- Build trust. District leaders can enhance trust between students and school staff by providing informal opportunities for teachers and staff to interact with students outside the classroom, such as at school sporting events and musical performances. "Trusting school climates in which students feel comfortable going to an adult with their concerns are the foundation of productive approaches to reporting," the report said.
- Promote reporting methods. Building awareness about how, when and what to report will make it more likely that safety concerns will be reported. Engaging students in training and outreach can also help build buy-in from more reluctant individuals.
- Make results and process transparent. Sharing how schools acted on information received, whether through an annual report or other updates, can eliminate some mystery and hesitation. For example, a report can explain when information is shared with law enforcement and when a situation is handled solely by district leaders.
- Give clear guidance and training. Increased awareness about reporting could add to school staff responsibilities, but providing training and explanation of staff roles in the reporting protocols can help lift the burden. Students should also receive information about the reporting process.