School Climate & Safety

How to Encourage Students to Report Threats

By Lauraine Langreo — August 30, 2022 4 min read
Image of an alert on a cellphone.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Having a school climate where students feel comfortable going to a trusted adult is the key to a successful threat reporting system, concludes a RAND Corporation study.

Without those strong youth-adult relationships, it’s less likely that threats or school safety-related concerns are going to be reported in time to prevent problems, the report found.

The RAND study, published Aug. 25, outlines how states, districts, and schools can best encourage students to report threats of school violence so that action can be taken before something happens.

The study was released three months after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and as K-12 districts scramble to increase school security and prevent another tragedy. Many schools are spending more on physical security, such as metal detectors, security cameras, and door-locking systems.

But the report suggests that focusing on the school climate is also critical in ensuring school safety.

“In the wake of all of these horrific school shootings, a lot of conversations focused on a different array of issues,” said Pauline Moore, one of the authors of the study and a political scientist at RAND. “There’s the issue about gun safety, gun rights. There’s going to be discussions about improved physical security in schools. There’s going to be debates over whether we need armed teachers or not in schools.”

But Moore emphasizes that “this report really shows that the human dimension is really important in all of this.”

Dan Domenech, the executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, told Education Week that the findings of the RAND study are “very much in line with what schools around the country are working at and attempting to do.” Administrators and teachers are working on connecting with students beyond academic priorities to develop trusting relationships, he said.

“Most people think that all educators care about is student achievement and test scores,” Domenech said. “But schools are also about the safety of the students and the mental well-being of the students.”

See also

Palm trees are visible around the water tower in Uvalde, Texas, on July 20, 2022.
Palm trees surround the water tower in Uvalde, Texas. The town is the site of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
Jordan Vonderhaar for Education Week
Equity & Diversity In Uvalde, Pain Where There Once Was Pride
Ileana Najarro, August 16, 2022
12 min read

The study also found that students are more likely to report safety concerns if schools use communication methods that are more common among school-age kids, whether it’s through phone apps, websites, email, or text messaging.

Having an anonymous option is also important so that students don’t have to worry about bullying from their peers because they reported a threat.

Students need to know who will be fielding their reports of potential violence

It’s also important that schools are transparent about what happens to the information reported through a tip line or other methods. Those who are reporting concerns need to know who will be fielding their calls and tips, who has access to the information, which issues are handled by school administrators and which are handled by law enforcement.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Reporting programs with the option to speak or chat directly with someone trained in crisis communication 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.
  • Having buy-in from school leadership, teachers, and other school staff (including cafeteria staff, after-school staff, and bus drivers) increases the chances that a reporting program will be effective and sustainable.

“I think people understand what needs to be done to get students to come forward. It’s just a matter of finding the time and resources to implement the right approach,” Moore said.

See also

Photograph of crime scene tape and school.
F.Sheehan/Education Week and Getty

Domenech agreed. He said school safety is top of mind for educators but it’s sometimes been “challenging” to implement. For example, districts are trying to hire more social workers, guidance counselors, and security personnel, but they’re having a hard time filling those positions. Some districts are also struggling with getting social media companies to provide districts with information when students might be threatening to harm themselves or others.

Domenech added that while it’s been great to have the American Rescue Plan funding, the requirement that the federal COVID-19 recovery money be spent within a three-year period is “a problem.”

“What’s going to happen when those dollars aren’t available anymore? And how can you maintain the type of practices that you’ve put in place to deal with student safety?” Domenech asked.

The study was based on a literature review of research about encouraging young people’s willingness to report concerns. Moore and the other researchers also conducted about 35 interviews with people working in K-12 education, including state leaders, district leaders, and principals, to get feedback on what approaches have worked for them to get students to come forward with information.

The research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and is part of an effort to provide tools for K-12 schools to improve school safety.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.
School & District Management Webinar Fostering Student Well-Being with Programs That Work
Protecting student well-being has never been more important. Join this webinar to learn how to ensure your programs yield the best outcomes.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP
School Climate & Safety A Pair of Retired Military Officers Makes a Case Against Arming Teachers
Their comments come on a call organized by a national teachers' union pushing back against the school safety strategy.
3 min read
A man in a black polo shirt with short sleeves holds up a hand gun in front of a projector screen that shows a diagram of a gun with labeled parts.
Clark Aposhian, president of Utah Shooting Sport Council, holds a pistol during concealed weapons training for 200 Utah teachers, in West Valley City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP