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Perceptions of School Safety in the Aftermath of a Shooting: Challenge to Internal Validity?

Methods of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research

ISBN: 978-1-78769-866-6, eISBN: 978-1-78769-865-9

Publication date: 26 August 2019


Purpose – In the midst of the second wave of data collection for a Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) research project, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This tragic incident provoked responses across the United States, including intense political discourse, organized student protests, and active shooter drills. In order to assess the potential influence of a major threat to school safety on the perceptions of adolescents, this chapter analyzes the survey responses of middle and high school students in St. Louis County.

Methodology/approach – Approximately one-third of the sample was surveyed prior to the shooting and the remaining students completed surveys within three months after the shooting. The authors examines the potential influence of the shooting on students’ reports on a number of school safety issues, including fear and perceived risk of victimization, likelihood of reporting guns on campus, and engaging in avoidance behaviors.

Findings – Results indicate that the shooting significantly influenced students’ perceptions of school disorder and likelihood of reporting a weapon at school, especially in white, less disadvantaged schools. The results also reflect meaningful effects based on the timing of data collection post-shooting, with many of the significant changes appearing within three weeks after February 14, 2018.

Originality/value – This study explores how external events may influence student perceptions of school safety. Moreover, this study offers a methodological contribution by demonstrating an assessment of the Parkland shooting as a potential threat to internal validity.



O’Neill, J., McCuddy, T. and Esbensen, F.-A. (2019), "Perceptions of School Safety in the Aftermath of a Shooting: Challenge to Internal Validity?", Deflem, M. and Silva, D.M.D. (Ed.) Methods of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 24), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 115-132.



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