Threats to Safety: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Suburban Public School District Superintendents' Perceptions of Safety, Discipline, and Security Measures



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Background: School-targeted shootings are horrific crises that negatively impact communities and families in across America, often resulting in the prioritization of school safety policies and practices. Consequently, fear of school-targeted shootings often catalyzes the creation and adoption of policies and practices that are not evidence-based in preventing them. For these reasons, policies and measures intended to prevent school shootings can lead to exclusionary discipline practices that mostly penalize students of color, even though most school shooters are White and school shootings mostly occur at majority White schools in rural or suburban areas. Conversely, several researchers posit that security measures implemented to prevent school shootings have unintended consequences that may exacerbate inequities in discipline for students of color by increasing drop-out, suspension, and expulsion rates, ultimately affecting school climate and academic achievement. Purpose: Through the lens of structural violence, this study examined Texas suburban public school district superintendents’ perceptions of safety, discipline, and security measures. Three research questions guided this study: 1. How do suburban school district superintendents perceive safety, discipline, and security measures? 2. In what ways do a high-profile school shooting influence suburban public school district superintendents efforts to create safe school schools? 3. How are suburban public school district superintendents perceptions of safety measures reflected in news articles/newsletters? Methods: This study employed a qualitative case study design to examine questionnaire responses and public documents using critical discourse analysis. A total of n=5 Texas suburban public school district superintendents participated in this study. The themes that emerged within the cases served as basis for the major findings of this study. Findings: Administrator perceptions played a central role in shaping school safety and discipline policies. Adopting security measures in response to a high-profile shooting was consistent with the literature. There were ideological differences as the superintendents did not consider demographics of students when implementing school safety/discipline policies and security measures. By not considering student demographics, the effectiveness in ensuring all students are safe (unharmed) is limited, which and instead contributes to structural violence. Conclusion: Although the population of students of color in Texas continues to grow, policies that mostly penalize students of color have been slow to change. Findings from this study may help campuses identify and adopt policies, practices, and behaviors to prevent continued marginalization and criminalization of students of color. The findings also shed light on the need to identify and address root causes of behavior issues. Recommendations for policy and practice include increasing the number of support staff on school campuses, building relationships and developing cultural responsiveness using the culturally responsive school leadership framework as it focuses on recognizing and embracing all students’ identities and cultures.



School safety, School safety policies, School shooting, School discipline, School discipline policies, Discipline disparities, School security measures