Accusations of Negligence in Shooting by 6-Year-Old

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Washington Post about legal repercussions from the 2023 shooting of a Virginia teacher by her 6-year-old student. A grand jury indicted a former assistant principal with eight counts of felony child abuse, and the injured teacher has filed a $40 million suit against the school district, alleging negligence on the part of administrators. The former assistant principal is accused of disregarding at least three teachers’ warnings that the first-grader might be carrying a gun. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago people could say, ‘I wasn’t educated. I didn’t know this could happen. I thought the kid was too young to have a gun,’” Astor said. “But in this day and age with all the data, reporting and training, it’s really problematic for a vice principal not to follow up on these warnings.” In another Washington Post story, Astor said that Americans are frustrated by the political impasse over proposals to restrict access to guns and are “just exhausted” by the bloodshed.


Astor on Suicidal Thoughts, Gun Violence

A Houston Chronicle story on a woman who used an assault rifle to open fire at a Texas megachurch cited Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin. The woman, who had a history of mental health struggles, was killed in an exchange of fire with security officers. There were no other fatalities. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among those who perpetrate mass shootings, Astor said. “These are really suicides, too. These are not just homicides.” In addition, a High School Insider article shared research by Astor that offered an encouraging counterpoint. In California, day-to-day danger on school campuses declined significantly between 2001 and 2019, according to the study published in the World Journal of Pediatrics.


Shock Waves of Trauma Following UNLV Shooting

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars Mark S. Kaplan and Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Las Vegas Review Journal about the lasting trauma experienced by school communities in the aftermath of campus shootings. On Dec. 6, a gunman killed three members of the faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and gravely injured a fourth. “This is going to send shock waves through the campus,” said Kaplan, who teaches a class on firearm violence prevention policy at UCLA. Access to counseling is critical for students, faculty and the entire UNLV community, he stressed. Astor said memorials and vigils can help the community come together to process grief and trauma. He added that school safety literature shows that many people rate their own schools — both K-12 and college — as very safe even as they express anxiety about campus shootings.


Astor Receives 2023 School Mental Health Research Award

The National Center for School Mental Health has selected UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor as the recipient of the 2023 School Mental Health Research Award. Launched in 2018, the award recognizes scholars who have made a significant contribution to advancing research and practice in school mental health. Astor received the award on Dec. 5 at the 2023 Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health, held in New Orleans. At a summit on the eve of the conference, Astor shared his scholarship on campus climate, social-emotional learning and social justice with leading school mental health researchers from across the country. In his decades of research, Astor has studied tens of thousands of schools and millions of students, teachers, parents and administrators, and his work has been published in more than 200 scholarly manuscripts. His latest research examines antisemitism in K-12 settings, and he is spearheading research exchanges focusing on schools that empower students in Arab, Jewish and other diverse communities in the Middle East and Los Angeles. Astor’s far-reaching impact on the field of school mental health was cited in three separate nominations he received for this year’s School Mental Health Research Award. “This interdisciplinary career award coming from such an important organization that does critical work for our schools means the world to me,” said Astor, who has a joint appointment at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. “I appreciate the recognition and hope to use it as a platform to spread peace and mental health support to our world’s children.” 

$7 Million Initiative Aims to Ease Tensions on UC Campuses

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to LAist about the University of California’s decision to invest $7 million in new initiatives to support students, enhance safety and improve the climate on campus in light of recent events in Israel and Gaza. The funds will be used for emergency mental health services; employee training on freedom of expression and diversity, equity and inclusion; and campus programs that counter antisemitism and Islamophobia. “That would be very helpful,” said Astor, noting that high tensions on the UCLA campus have brought a stream of students into his office who are feeling distraught and alienated.


Astor on Schools’ Role in Preventing Bullying, Suicide

A Washington Post story about legal actions taken by parents whose bullied children took their own lives cited Ron Avi Astor, UCLA professor of social welfare and education and an expert in school safety. Many families and political leaders argue that schools have a legal obligation to keep children safe. Across the country, several parents who lost children to suicide have won financial settlements from school districts, with some campuses enacting new anti-bullying programs and policies to protect students from harm. Astor said that suicide prevention efforts are also critical, especially as students increasingly report suicidal thoughts and plans. “Schools need to know that’s a separate and really important thing to do,” he said.


When Gun Violence Erupts, Social Workers Are First Responders, Advocates and Educators

UCLA Luskin’s Ron Avi Astor spoke to Social Work Advocates for an article on the role of social workers when gun violence erupts on America’s streets and in schools, churches and homes. Social workers are both first responders and providers of continuing care. They also conduct research, lobby Congress and promote education on the responsible use of firearms. Astor, professor of social welfare and education, shared his research on strategies to prevent school shootings, including a study on the effectiveness of interventions implemented in California. “To our surprise, the numbers showed that there was a dramatic reduction, a huge, huge reduction in day-to-day victimization of kids in California over this 20-year period,” Astor said. “That’s an important story to get out there. What social workers are doing actually matters to kids in their day-to-day lives.”


UCLA, Hebrew University Receive $1.3 Million in Grants for Collaboration to Deter School Violence

Grants from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and an anonymous donor will support a new partnership between UCLA and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence prevention strategies that ensure that campuses are safe and welcoming places for children worldwide. The UCLA-HU Collaboration for Safe Schools is a $1.3 million, two-year pilot program connecting university students, scholars and practitioners globally and across disciplines to share research and insights related to the complex underlying causes of school violence. Through exchange programs and conferences held on each campus, the partnership will bring top U.S. and Israeli scholars together with K-12 educators, administrators and social workers; policymakers and experts in law and criminology; and graduate and undergraduate students focused on fields related to social education. The first conference, to be held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, will focus on how to ensure safety at schools in areas that are experiencing extreme strife at the political and social levels. Recruitment of partnering research teams at Hebrew University and UCLA will begin in the fall of 2023. The program will operate under the leadership of two internationally recognized experts in school safety: Ron Avi Astor, UCLA professor of social welfare and education, has worked with thousands of schools to reduce victimization of students in a career spanning three decades. Mona Khoury-Kassabri, chair of Hebrew University’s school of social work and social welfare, is also the university’s vice president of strategy and diversity. 

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Read the January 2023 Luskin Forum story about Astor’s work


Astor on Clashing Strategies for Making Schools Safer

UCLA Luskin school safety expert Ron Avi Astor spoke to USA Today about dueling strategies for addressing gun violence on campus. Many schools have increased the presence of police officers and metal detectors, while others prioritize social-emotional learning, which teaches students self-awareness, empathy and resilience. “You have these two genres – the zero-tolerance policies and making each school look like a little prison on one side. Ironically, you have – at the same time – the opposite vision of making school a more loving and caring and supportive place,” said Astor, a professor of social welfare and education. Tapping into both methods at once may create an atmosphere that is confusing to students, he said, recommending that schools adopt a single, consistent approach. Astor added that rates of bullying, fights and drug use in schools have significantly decreased over the past 20 years, largely due to a stronger connection to community resources, the hiring of more social workers and prioritization of student empowerment.


Astor Discusses Expectations on School Security Officers During Mass Shootings

UCLA Luskin Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to BBC News about the trial of Scot Peterson, a school security officer who chose to take cover rather than storm into a school building in 2018 to confront a gunman in Parkland, Florida. Peterson stood trial for neglect of a child in relation to his decisions during a mass shooting incident in which 17 people died and 17 more were injured. Recurring tragedies like the Parkland shooting have put law enforcement officers under intense pressure to engage directly with armed assailants, but “is it a reasonable thing to do for somebody who’s not a SWAT team member, or trained in the military?” said Astor, an expert in school violence. Noting that even highly trained police officers call for backup in dangerous situations, Astor said confronting active shooters is too much to expect of school employees. On June 29, Peterson was found not guilty on all counts.