Abstract: School Safety in Inner-City Schools: Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

School Safety in Inner-City Schools: Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 9, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Matthew Cuellar, PhD, Assistant Professor, Yeshiva University, New York, NY
Soohyoung Lee, PhD, Research Associate, Yeshiva University, New York, NY
Susan Mason, PhD, Professor, Yeshiva University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Promoting safe schools has become a growing focus in the United States. From 1999–2015, locked entrance or exit doors (38%-78%), metal detectors (9%-12%), security guards or assigned police officers (54%-70%), and the use of security cameras (19%-75% from 1999–2014) represent the most drastic increases in school safety policies and practices over the last two decades (Musu-Gillette, et al., 2016). However, current research suggests such practices might disproportionally affect students of color (Servoss & Finn, 2014; Toldston, 2012). Such disproportionality is argued to compromise the educational environment and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, further reducing the likelihood that already disadvantaged youth might succeed (e.g., Hirschfield, 2011). This study pursues two research questions: 1) Is the likelihood of exposure to school safety strategies for white students equal to the likelihood of exposure for non-white students? 2) What students are more likely to be exposed to school safety strategies?

Methods: Data were collected from ninth-grade students across one inner-city school district in the greater New York City area (N=323). The mean age was 14.31 (Range: 13 – 17); 72.1% of students reporting as non-white (24.5% reported as African-American, 61.3% Hispanic, and 88.5% received free/discounted lunch). Variables included student characteristics, student engagement with school safety practices (e.g., “How often do you interact with your school security officer?”); and student misbehavior (e.g., “How often have you engaged in a physical attack/fight?”).

Results: Non-white students were significantly more likely to check in to the front desk, X2(3, N=255)=7.95, p<.05, more likely to interact with their school’s security officer, X2(3, N=251)=8.64, p<.05, and more likely to be limited in access to social networking at school X2(3, N= 250)=7.75, p=.05. When controlling for age, gender, behavior, and socioeconomic status, logistic regression identified the odds of checking into the front desk were higher for the African-American group (OR=3.62, 95% CI [1.76, 7.42]; p < .05) compared to that of the White and Hispanic groups. The African-American group were more likely to use a structured anonymous threat reporting system (OR=5.32, 95% CI [1.57, 17.93], p < .05) and had significantly higher odds of being randomly searched for contraband at school (OR=2.94, 95% CI [1.06, 8.11], p < .05) when compared to their Hispanic and White counterparts.

Implications for Practice: Considering the racial/ethnic distribution of the district from which these data were collected, these findings seemingly contradict the historically applied racial threat hypothesis (Blolock, 1967). However, they support the theory of implicit racial bias (e.g., Nance, 2016). Programming rooted in this framework might be beneficial to inner-city schools dealing with disparate outcomes as a result of school safety (e.g., Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012). Findings suggests community-level agents must increase awareness of racial disparities within communities so parents and other stakeholders can have an educated "say" in school safety programming. Preparedness and training of community-level practitioners in collaborating with law enforcement and juvenile court officials to identify school- and community-level needs might also be promising in addressing school-level disparities. Implications for social work will be provided.