Legal and ethical ambiguities associated with behavior profiling of potentially violent students: secondary administrators' attitudes
Ratheal, Juli D'Ann
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Although there has been an overall decrease in incidences of school violence since the early 1990s, the number of multiple homicides on school properties has increased. Following the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, a number of governmental agencies in collaboration with private organizations and educational agencies have produced various profiling and/or threat assessment lists of common characteristics associated with potentially violent students. However, educators and other professionals do not always agree on the benefits versus the risks associated with student behavior profiling. The purpose of this study was to determine whether behavior profiling was being used in Texas Region 17 and to assess attitudes concerning behavior profiling of students among Region 17 secondary administrators. This study was grounded in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory. The theory places "safety" second only to "physiological" needs in terms of primary needs suggesting that students must have their physiological and safety needs met before learning, which is the primary function of education, can be achieved. A second theory that provided a premise for this study is a common law doctrine known as in loco parentis, which defines the rights of students while at school in the United States. This commonly adhered to belief system established the school's authority over students as "in place of a parent" while the student was at school. The common theme throughout the literature review seemed to be that because school safety is a major concern to the American public, schools are expected to maintain a safe, learning environment. The legal and ethical gray area evident in the literature reflected numerous concerns associated with behavior profiling and threat assessment methods of creating and maintaining a safe environment. To address the ambivalence that seems evidence in the literature, the following questions were investigated in this study: (1) Is behavior profiling being used by Region 17 secondary administrators to identify and provide assistance to potentially violent students?; (2) How do the administrators perceive the benefits versus the risks of behavior profiling methods?; and (3) Do administrator's attitudes reflect the legal and ethical incongruence reflected in the literature? Data collection for this study was achieved by the use of a survey. Data analysis for this study consisted of the following (psychometric) descriptive techniques: (1) the mean, median and mode will be used to summarize and interpret the data; (2) variability will be expressed in terms of range; and (3) the distribution of the data will be illustrated by use of tables and bar charts. Eighty percent of the sample indicated that behavioral profiling is not being used. Forty-one percent of the sample indicated that they believed their campuses should be using behavioral profiling. No significant differences were found within any of the subgroups concerning beliefs about the risks and benefits of behavior profiling. Of the respondents who reported using behavior profiling, attitudinal data collected suggests that these respondents believe that the benefits of behavior profiling outweigh the risks. Additionally, of those respondents who reported not using behavior profiling attitudinal data suggests that these respondents believe that the benefits of behavioral profiling do not outweigh the risks.