Survey says: Parents fear school shootings

Jagdish Khubchandani

Editor's note: This summary of a research paper was sent by Ball State University more than a month before the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since that shooting in Broward County, just north of Miami, there have been threats of violence leading to closures, lock downs and student expulsions at several schools in the Tri-State area.

One third of parents believe their local high school will suffer a shooting incident in the next three years, but few know of effective countermeasures to stop such violence from happening, says a new study from Ball State University.

Parents' Expectations of High Schools in Firearm Violence Prevention, a multi-university survey of 257 Midwestern parents, found that about 36 percent of respondents believed their local high school was 'highly likely' to have a gun incident in the next three years.

"Gun violence is a major issue among parents, who often have a limited grasp of potentially effective interventions to reduce such events," said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate professor of health science at Ball State University. Khubchandani authored the study with faculty from the University of Toledo and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In December 2017 it was published in The Journal of Community Health.

"Some parents are quick to blame others for a shooting because they have no idea how to stop such incidents from happening," Khubchandani added. "In fact, the study suggests that most parents have a limited knowledge of what works and what doesn't in preventing these incidents."

Khubchandani doesn't fault parents for this lack of knowledge.

"The research regarding specific interventions schools should undertake to best reduce their risks of firearm violence occurring at school (or at school events) is nonexistent," the Journal study

points out.

This lack of research is "due to how rare these firearm violence events are in schools," Khubchandani explained.

Studies show that a total of 2,787 recorded firearm deaths occurred in 2015 among Americans younger than 19 years old, with 95 percent of homicides and suicides that year occurring off school grounds.

Yet school shootings are often highly publicized, creating incorrect perceptions of firearm risks in schools among both parents and school administrators — misperceptions "that can result in ineffective policies and action," Khubchandani said.

The study also found that parents perceived inadequate parental monitoring/rearing practices; peer harassment and/or bullying; inadequate mental health care services for youth and easy access to guns as major causes of firearm violence in schools.

Parents believed the following school policies were most effective in reducing firearm violence: installing an alert system in schools; working with law enforcement to design an emergency response plan; creating a comprehensive security plan; requiring criminal background checks for all school personnel prior to hiring; and implementing an anonymous system for students to report peer concerns regarding potential violence.

Common school practices such as random searches of backpacks or lockers and/or installation of metal detectors or bullet-proof glass were viewed by parents as less effective policies for reducing school firearm violence, the study found.

Parents also were less supportive of having trained school personnel carrying firearms.

"Our study also indicated the majority of parents are dissatisfied with many of the systems schools currently have in place to counteract gun violence," Khubchandani said. "It's a strong indicator that parents want a greater say in how their local schools are addressing the issue."

The study should be used to assist school administrators in providing more of the kinds of school policies parents want to see in place to prevent this kind of violence, he said.

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani was the recipient of Indiana Governor's Service Learning Award (2012), Hurley Goodall Distinguished Faculty Award (2012), and the BSU Outstanding Junior Faculty Award (2014).