U-M to host national center for school safety, gun violence prevention

October 3, 2019
Written By:
Nardy Baeza Bickel

Back view of high school students raising hands on a class. Image credit: iStock

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan School of Public Health will house a $6 million multidisciplinary, multi-institutional national research and training center on school safety that will provide schools with training and technical assistance to prevent school violence.

The new center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice, the center will bring together faculty and staff from top schools of public health, criminal justice and education, school safety professionals, and experts in evidence-based practices, law enforcement, crisis intervention, violence prevention and mental health.

Partners include the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, University of Virginia, Michigan State University, National Council of Behavioral Health, Association of School Superintendents and National Association of Elementary School Principals, among others.

“We recognize that even when schools have tools to implement evidence-based strategies, they are often faced with limited staffing, constrained funding and insufficient access to training,” said Justin Heinze, co-principal investigator of the new center and assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health.

“The center will bring together a national multidisciplinary team to develop comprehensive and accessible training and technical assistance to increase schools’ capacity to promote safety in their learning communities nationwide.”

The center, funded for three years, will include a training and technical assistance team focusing on seven areas: threat assessment, crisis intervention teams, law enforcement training, violence prevention/mental health, notification technology, deterrent measures and capacity building.

It also will create a comprehensive online database of training resources, workshops, free online courses and interactive online modules and webinars, as well as an online platform.

The center will create a national advisory board with members from rural, urban, suburban and tribal school districts.

According to the researchers, shootings in K-12 schools increased from 15 in 2015 to 97 in 2019. Up to one in five students reported being in a fight in the last year. And suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10-to-14-year-olds. Schools are in unique positions to support students in crisis or who may become a danger to themselves or others by engaging in best practices or evidence-based strategies, the researchers say.

“Addressing school violence requires a comprehensive, multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach that can be tailored to unique school contexts,” said Marc Zimmerman, co-principal investigator and the Marshall H. Becker Collegiate Professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health. “We’ve assembled a great team that we hope will make a difference to reduce violence and help create safe and healthy futures for our nation’s youth.”

Angela Beck, clinical assistant professor of health behavior and health education and assistant dean for student engagement and practice at the School of Public Health, is also a co-principal investigator.

Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook whose son Dylan was killed in Sandy Hook Elementary, agreed.

“As a long-standing partner with the University of Michigan, we look forward to growing this relationship as a significant contributor to the national training and technical center,” she said. “Ultimately, this work will help prevent countless potential shootings, violence and other harmful acts in schools.”

In addition to his work with the center, Zimmerman co-leads the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium. Created in 2017 and funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, the consortium focuses on two dozen researchers from 12 universities and health systems who are working to fill a knowledge gap about firearms and young people.


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