Threat assessment: UVA prof says schools are safe

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UVA’s Dewey Cornell says schools are one of the safest places for children. Courtesy photo UVA’s Dewey Cornell says schools are one of the safest places for children. Courtesy photo

There are an average of 32,000 firearm deaths in the country every year—and there have been 224 school shootings since 2013.

“Schools are one of the safest places for kids to be,” says Dewey Cornell, a professor at UVA’s Curry School of Education and director of the university’s Virginia Youth Violence Project.

At his June 9 lecture titled “School Safety and Violence Prevention,” Cornell said the majority of homicides occur in residences, followed by parking lots and garages, and then restaurants and bars. There are 10 times as many shootings in restaurants as in schools, he said.

“Why doesn’t the NRA recommend arming our cooks and our waitpersons rather than our teachers?” Cornell asked.

The fear of school violence is costly, he said, with the school security industry raking in big bucks by selling materials to craft bulletproof building entrances with metal detectors and X-ray technologies. Enhanced security and police presence on campuses also costs a pretty penny, he said, and he noted that after the slaying of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Albemarle County Public School administration asked the police department to place at least one patrol officer in every elementary school.

The professor recounted that, at that time, Chief Steve Sellers said putting one of his women or men in each of the schools would leave none for the rest of the county.

In Albemarle schools, all classroom door locks were recently replaced with ones that lock from the inside. Cornell says the $15,000 used to replace them should have been used for providing mental health services for students, and proper education on bullying and how to respond to it.

County schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita says 75 percent of that project was funded by a state security grant and there were strict parameters on how the money could be spent. Before replacing the locks, teachers would have to go out into the hallway to secure their doors.

“We need to focus much more attentively on prevention,” Cornell said. People have often argued that that’s a complicated task because it’s difficult to tell who could be a perpetrator of school violence, but Cornell argued, “Prevention does not require prediction.”

In 2002, he and his colleagues developed the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines, which is an evidence-based model that each school in the state uses. From this, he’s found that 97.7 percent of threats in schools were not attempted.

Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development Catherine Bradshaw, another Curry School professor who spoke at the lecture, calls herself a “prevention scientist.” She studies bullying and how to respond to it.

A recent study uncovered 54 incidents in which a grade school student used President Donald Trump’s name or message to harass a classmate, Bradshaw said. In big letters behind her, a slide on her PowerPoint presentation read, “The Kids are Alt-Right.”

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