Reconceptualizing School Safety to Create a Safer Learning Environment for Black Students


To create a safer learning environment for black students, schools should shift to culturally relevant and Afrocentric policies and practices that better integrate their identity into school culture, according to a new study led by the University at Buffalo. .

The research, published earlier this year in International School Psychology, have suggested that practices such as allowing black students and their families to co-create school rules, removing zero-tolerance discipline policies, creating mentorship programs that pair black students with black adults, and promoting the use of mindfulness among students could have a positive impact on the educational experiences of black youth.

Black students are more likely than any other racial group to experience exclusionary discipline such as suspensions and expulsions. The discipline gap exists as early as preschool, as black preschoolers are nearly four times more likely to receive suspensions than white preschoolers, according to the US Department of Education.

Black students also report feeling less safe at school than white and Asian students, even controlling for neighborhood factors, says lead author Kamontá Heidelburg, PhD, assistant professor of counseling, school and instructional psychology at the UB Graduate School of Education.

Ensuring a physically and psychologically safe school environment for students is essential for them to learn and grow, especially for minority students continually oppressed by systemic barriers. Culturally incongruous curricula, disciplinary disparities, and school staff biases are all part of the school experience for Black students. School safety needs to be re-examined and reconceptualized to promote a safe, secure, and welcoming environment for Black students.”

Kamontá Heidelburg, PhD, Assistant Professor of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology, UB Graduate School of Education

Heidelburg and its co-authors – Chavez Phelps, PhD, assistant professor at Georgia State University; and Tai A. Collins, PhD, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati – suggest many interventions to help foster a safe learning environment for black students.

Among their recommendations:

School staff should highlight Black accomplishments throughout society to better teach Black students about their history and help promote pride in their racial identity, empower Black students and their families to co-create school rules to better align with their norms and values, and provide anti-bias and racial training for school staff so they can understand the intricacies of the Black experience in the United States and better discuss race and racism with the students.

Schools should also use disciplinary data to identify the teachers most likely to discipline and the students most often targeted. Additionally, schools should replace zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and the use of school safety measures – which push black students out of school into the criminal justice system – with compassionate conflict resolution interventions such as classroom agreements and amendment meetings.

The researchers also recommend mindfulness as a powerful tool to help young black people manage stress and their emotions. They add that school-based mentorships with Black adults help shield Black students from institutional barriers by helping them foster positive relationships with adults who are not their caregivers, make better life choices, and strengthen their self-esteem. self-esteem and pride in identity.

“Every black student deserves to feel that they are seen and valued, and that they are safe in a world that rarely allows them to have such experiences,” Heidelburg says. “Schools face an ultimatum and must decide whether to be part of the solution and better support Black student experiences, or maintain the status quo and further oppress Black students.”


Journal reference:

Heidelburg, K., et al. (2022) Reconceptualizing School Safety for Black Students. International School Psychology.


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