Following a number of high-profile mass school shootings in recent years, including that in Parkland, FL, in 2018 and recently in Oxford, Michigan, policymakers and educators have increasingly sought ways to ensure schools are safe.

F. Chris Curran, associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Florida, has been awarded $1,998,585 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs to support this effort through the development of an enhanced school safety data dashboard for Florida schools.

Curran, who directs the Education Policy Research Center at UF’s College of Education, is collaborating with the non-profit Safe Schools for Alex, that was founded by Max Schachter following the murder of his son at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Since the tragedy, Schachter’s organization has been working to enhance school safety by facilitating broader access to school safety data.

“The opportunity to collaborate on expanding the work Safe Schools for Alex has begun while leveraging the robust school safety data collected in Florida provides unprecedented opportunities to use data to inform how and where we target supports to ensure safe schools”, said Curran.

In partnership with the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools, the newly funded initiative will work to build on Safe Schools for Alex’s existing school safety dashboards to enhance the user experience, incorporate more frequent updates of data, glean actionable insights from analysis of the data and support school personnel on the use of the dashboard.

Safe Schools for Alex is extremely excited to partner with the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Education to create the first real-time public School Safety Dashboard to assist parents, schools, legislators and law enforcement in their efforts to reduce violence and exclusionary discipline on all K-12 campus’ statewide,” said Schachter. “We hope this pilot program becomes a model for how data can be used to make schools safer across the United States”. 

Historically, school safety data – such as the number of fights and school responses like suspensions – have been difficult for school personnel and the public to access and use. In fact, many states do not make such data publicly available or only do so in formats that make it difficult to see trends over time or compare across schools.

“In prior work, we’ve found that around half of states do not have publicly available school-level data on student behavior or discipline,” Curran continued. “Where the data do exist, they are often in formats that are difficult for educators and other stakeholders to use to inform practice.”

Fortunately, mass school shootings like that in Parkland remain statistically rare events. However, increasing access and analysis of school safety data may also help address less severe threats to school safety. As students across the nation have returned to in-person settings, schools have reported more disruptive behavior. The school safety dashboard holds promise for schools to be better equipped to track and respond effectively to these emergent concerns. 

The new funding builds on Curran’s nationally recognized expertise in school safety and discipline, including leading a recent convening of scholars and policymakers from across the country to envision a trajectory for school discipline research. According to Curran, this project will “extend the collaborative conversations of our prior convening to actionable steps that can improve the safety of schools in Florida.” 

Work on the school safety data dashboard project is beginning in the coming months and will continue through 2024.

“This project was supported by Grant No. 15PBJA-21-GG-04652-STOP awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.” 

Christopher Curran

F. Chris Curran