Astor on Accountability of Children Who Commit Violence

The Associated Press spoke with Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor for a story about the possibility of parole for the shooter who killed three classmates at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1997. Michael Carneal, 14 at the time of the shooting, became eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. His case has illuminated the debate about the age at which children should be held strictly accountable for their actions, Astor said, noting that the lack of consensus has led to a patchwork of laws across the country. Astor recently provided context to school safety issues including strategies to deter bullying and acts of violence, as reported in the San Jose Spotlight and the podcast Schoolutions. He is also part of an American Psychological Association task force that measured the impact of the COVID-19 era on teachers and other school staff, many of whom reported frequent threats and harassment and a desire to leave their jobs.


UCLA, Hebrew University Receive Grant for International Collaboration to Deter School Violence Top scholars, educators and practitioners will join forces to foster safe and welcoming schools

A $650,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation will support a new partnership between UCLA and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence prevention strategies that turn campuses into safe and welcoming places for children worldwide.

The UCLA-HU Collaboration for Safe Schools is a two-year pilot program connecting scholars and practitioners globally and across disciplines to share research and insights related to the complex underlying causes of school violence.

The program will operate in both California and Israel under the leadership of two internationally recognized experts in school safety: Ron Avi Astor of UCLA and Mona Khoury-Kassabri of Hebrew University.

Astor is the Marjorie Crump Endowed Professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a joint appointment in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Khoury-Kassabri, Hebrew University’s vice president of strategy and diversity, is the Frances and George Katz Family Chair at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation grant, awarded to UCLA and American Friends of the Hebrew University, covers half of the pilot program’s $1.3 million budget. Martin H. Blank, Jr., and Richard S. Ziman, co-trustees of the foundation, issued a statement inviting other funders to “join this important initiative to create a safer and more peaceable world.”

Through exchange programs and conferences held on each campus, the Collaboration for Safe Schools aims to bring top U.S. and Israeli scholars together with K-12 educators, administrators and social workers; policymakers and experts in law and criminology; and university students focused on fields related to social education.

Participants will share knowledge on gun violence, bullying and cyberbullying, youth suicide and substance abuse, as well as forms of hate including antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and bias against LGBTQ and immigrant communities. The alliance will lead to a deeper understanding of culturally appropriate ways to create thriving school environments.

It will also stress the importance of a school curriculum that prizes not just academic success but social and emotional maturity, and makes room for integration of the arts into a holistic education that builds safe, healthy communities.

“In our current unprecedented and unsettling times, such collaborations are more important than ever,” says Astor, who has worked with thousands of schools to reduce victimization of students in a career spanning three decades.

Khoury-Kassabri, an authority on community-level social justice policies and interventions that prevent juvenile delinquency, says, “This partnership will promote the worldwide reduction in hate between groups using education, exchanges and scientific data, both in the U.S. and Israel.”

The pilot program is envisioned as a prelude to what will become the UCLA-Hebrew University Center for Safe Schools, operated jointly by the two universities. The center will leverage the wide-ranging research, academic, training and field expertise of the two campuses and serve as a multidisciplinary hub supporting school safety efforts worldwide.

Research Finds Homeless Students Understudied and Overlooked

Despite increasing recognition as a national problem, homeless students remain an understudied and overlooked population that endures multiple challenges, as do the schools and districts that serve them, according to a new report co-authored by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor. The comparative case study, published online in the Journal of Community Psychology, explored the identification, service provision and school experience of homeless students in high- and low-socioeconomic districts. Astor and his colleagues compared two California school districts and their four elementary and middle schools. They found that despite differences in the socioeconomic context, both districts were under-identifying homeless students. “Both districts were underserving and lacking awareness of homeless students that were not identified,” they wrote. However, they found that the low-socioeconomic district had far greater poverty awareness than the high-socioeconomic district and, subsequently, an existing organizational structure to support identified homeless students. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students,” they noted. Schools play a major role for homeless students and may be the last social institution with which they interact before disengaging from all social institutions. “Meeting the substantial challenges involved in building schools and districts that support homeless students will require district policies and practices that explicitly address issues of poverty, homelessness and injustice,” they conclude. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students.”

Astor Comments on CNN About Young Child With Bullet-Proof Backpack

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor commented in a CNN video (starting at 2 min. 38 sec.) about an Oklahoma mom who bought her young son a bullet-proof backpack and taught him how to use it. The viral video showing her son how to use it garnered numerous reactions from parents and experts. “I don’t blame the parents; parents are right to be afraid. But, what we do about [violence], or where we go from here needs to be looked at very carefully,” Astor said. He advises that research shows prevention is favored over increased security measures at schools and suggests that parents consult websites for organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists. “Having especially very young children walking around thinking that they may be shot at any given moment could create a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of fear that’s unneeded and maybe not justified because there’s other ways to become safe,” Astor said.


Astor on Parents’ Shaken Trust in Police Response at School Shootings

The New York Times spoke to Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor about an altercation between parents and law enforcement at an Arizona school. A man believed to be armed had approached the campus, prompting a lockdown; he was taken into custody and no students or teachers were hurt. However, concerned relatives who arrived at the school clashed with police officers, demanding access to the campus. Three people were arrested, two of whom were shocked with stun guns. Astor said widespread media coverage of the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where the police response was heavily criticized, has led to deteriorating confidence in law enforcement’s effectiveness in this type of crisis. “You can see these parents don’t trust the police because of everything they’ve seen or heard,” but that narrative is not necessarily accurate, Astor said. Police can help change that narrative by being transparent and trustworthy, he said.


Interpreting U.S. Gun Culture for an International Audience

International news outlets seeking insights into U.S. gun culture and the fallout for the nation’s educational system have called on Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school violence and student well-being. A special report by Beijing News included an extended video interview with Astor, who explained the prominent role of firearms in U.S. history, as well as recent trends and legislation. In a story in Britain’s Guardian about bulletproof steel shelters designed for classrooms, Astor noted that making schools more fortress-like can backfire, turning schools into places of fear that feed the school-to-prison pipeline. He instead called for developing programs that build connections between children and their schools, “so that every teacher knows a little bit about every child’s emotional life and a little bit about their parents.” These programs reduce the incidence of students bringing weapons to school, Astor’s research has found.


Astor on New York’s Efforts to Combat Gun Violence

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the New York Times for a story about the large volume of guns, both legal and illegal, in New York state. Police determined that 13 guns were used in a shootout that killed a college basketball star and wounded eight others at a Harlem community barbecue in June. The article noted that New York is bracing for a surge in gun ownership after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law that made it difficult to own or carry a handgun legally. “It kind of leaves the police with fewer strategies,” Astor said. In addition to determining whether someone is carrying a gun, officers will have to ascertain whether or not that weapon is legal. New York City’s police commissioner said gun arrests are at a 27-year high up to this point in the year.


Astor on Good and Bad Trends in School Safety

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to media covering the release of a federal report showing that the 2020-21 school year had the highest number of school shooting casualties in the past two decades. Astor told the Washington Post that he welcomed the report’s broad definition of school shootings, which includes instances when guns were fired or brandished on school property, or when a bullet struck school grounds for any reason. The presence of a gun can be traumatic to anyone on campus, not just those hurt or targeted, he said. The report also identified a positive trend: decreased rates of nonfatal criminal victimization, such as theft, and less bullying and harassment. “People have been working really hard to reduce the bullying, the name-calling, the kicking, harassment kinds of issues, and we’ve been pretty effective as a country at reducing them,” Astor told K-12 Dive.


Astor Cautions Against ‘Making Schools Into Little Prisons’

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke about competing approaches to curbing gun violence in an extended interview on the Slate podcast “What Next.” Astor cautioned against plans that would “make schools into little prisons” with metal detectors, steel doors, armed teachers and other strategies to “harden” campuses, which can deepen students’ anxiety, according to research. He called for vigilance to detect a constellation of risk factors displayed by potential school shooters, including suicidal thoughts, a hunger for attention and an extreme obsession with firearms, prior shooters and conspiracy theories that focus on harming others. Several other media outlets have also called on Astor to share his expertise on the most effective strategies to create a safe campus environment; current legislation to curb gun violence; and an eight-point call to action put forth by a nationwide coalition of scholars. They include Time, ABC News, the New York Times, EdWeek and K-12 Dive.


Astor on Dangers of False Alarm Violent Threats

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor was featured in a New York Times article about the disturbing increase in school shooting threats across the country. Social media has made it increasingly easy to craft violent threats that clog up one of the few avenues law enforcement has to police them. These hoax threats have increased in prevalence following deadly mass shootings, including the killing of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. New York City has fielded an average of two school shooting threats per day this year, and an average of six per day in the week following the May 24 Uvalde shooting. Law enforcement officials are concerned that the increase in hoax threats will make it more difficult to identify real threats. “If the system becomes overwhelmed by false alarms, some could slip through,” Astor said. “It takes away a big tool.”