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Unequally Safe

Johanna Lacoe
School safety is a critical issue for school staff and administrators, policymakers, and parents across the nation. Media coverage of school shootings, gang violence, and bullying at school and online highlight the increasing need to understand how safe students feel at school, and how school safety affects student outcomes. Policy efforts to promote safety often focus on reducing school violence and disorder, such as zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the installation of metal detectors, or stationing police officers in schools. These policies are increasingly topics of discussion in academic, policy, and legal circles. For instance, a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2010 challenged the practices of police officers stationed in New York City public schools and the City Council took up the issue of racial disparities in school disciplinary outcomes in the same year. However, the influence of these policies on student perceptions of safety and security is less often a focus of the debate. Most research on educational context focuses on how school and neighborhood environments affect student outcomes. There has been less of a focus in the literature on whether students respond to the same school environment differently, and if these differences are systematically related to student characteristics such as race or poverty. Understanding variation in student responses to school and neighborhood settings is critical for crafting effective education policy and addressing persistent gaps in achievement.