Counselors, not guns, and emergency training for the staff offer the best chance for curbing school violence, according to a survey of California voters.
In the survey of 1,200 people conducted in English and Spanish, better than a 2-to-1 margin, or 67 percent to 26 percent, said hiring a counselor rather than a police officer would be more effective at preventing violence.
The survey by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates was commissioned by The California Endowment, a nonprofit health foundation advocating the expansion of affordable health care. Polling was conducted from Jan.16-21 in telephone interviews – both cellular and landline — with likely voters. The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 2.8%.
“California voters understand that counseling and mental health services can help prevent senseless tragedies on campus—and frankly, that focus on prevention has been the missing ingredient from school safety efforts in recent years,” said Barbara Raymond, the Endowment’s director of schools policy.
“Addressing gun policy and smart policing strategies are important pieces of the puzzle, but we can’t make schools safe without also improving mental health services. Counselors, nurses, and other support services are part of a range of strategies that will help make Health Happen in Schools, because we know the physical and emotional well-being of students is essential to their academic success,” Raymond said.
The survey measured voter support for a wide range of policy options currently under consideration in Sacramento and Washington. Of the options considered, California voters supported emergency preparedness measures and expansions in mental health services most strongly.
–96% of California voters support training school staff in emergency response (including 78% “strongly support”);
–96% support requiring every school to have a comprehensive safety plan (79% strongly—California law currently requires schools to maintain safety plans and update them annually by March 1);
–91% support training teachers in conflict resolution techniques (64% strongly);
–91% support expanding mental health services in communities (69% strongly);
–91% support providing mental “first aid” training to school staff, so they can recognize the signs of mental illness in young people (64% strongly);
–84% support increasing the number of trained counselors in schools (55% strongly);
–50% support putting armed police officers in every school (23% strongly);
–Only 31% support allowing teachers trained in firearms to carry guns on school grounds (16% strongly).
When asked to compare policy options directly, voters backed improving mental health services over installing more security cameras and metal detectors by a margin of 66% to 27%, a difference nearly identical to their preference for counselors over police (67% to 26%).
Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (65%) agreed that too many guards and gates on campus risks creating a tense, fortress-like environment that can be detrimental to a school’s educational mission. Regardless of their position on placing police in schools, 88% of voters agreed that officers assigned to schools should get special training in youth development, so they better understand teens and can work more effectively with students and teachers.
The opinions of California gun owners are similar to those expressed by all voters. By a margin of 58% to 36%, gun owners agreed that placing school counselors in every school was a more effective strategy than placing armed police officers in every school. Gun owners also backed increasing mental health service in communities (93%) and providing mental health “first aid” training to school staff (87%). California gun owners were evenly split on allowing teachers to carry firearms on school grounds (49% support; 48% oppose).