Flexible approach to school violence works

Sept. 30, 2011 at 11:18 PM
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A strategy to prevent school violence emphasizing early attention to student behavior problems reduces bullying and school suspensions, U.S. researchers say.

Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, who is also director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project, said the program provides guidelines for school staff that encourage a flexible, problem-solving approach to student misbehavior.

"Schools using threat assessment showed a 79 percent reduction in bullying infractions and a 52 percent reduction in long-term suspensions," Cornell said in a statement. "Threat assessment allows school administrators to return to the philosophy that the punishment should fit the crime, and that the school's response to a student should be based on the seriousness of the threat rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that you see with 'zero tolerance.'"

Zero tolerance, used in many schools, typically involves an automatic suspension of students for violations of school safety rules, but this usually means a harsh punishment, typically a long-term suspension, "even for students whose offense was relatively minor and students with an otherwise good record," Cornell said.

Cornell said suspension in general increases the risk for academic failure and does not seem to improve student behavior.

"Our research has shown that schools which rely the most on suspension have the highest dropout rates," Cornell said. "We know that suspension has deleterious effects on students and is counterproductive to our goal of helping them complete their education."

The findings are scheduled to be published in The National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin.

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