Report 99107 Summary - August 1999

School Safety: Comprehensive Resolution Programs Help Prepare Schools for Conflict


More than 75 percent of California's schools for grades kindergarten through 12 train students to resolve conflicts among themselves. However, few schools have an "extensive," or comprehensive, program that educates the entire school community-teachers, students, parents, principals, and clerical and support staff-about strategies for defusing potentially violent disagreements. At schools that do use extensive programs for conflict resolution and that devote necessary funds and staff resources to the programs, principals report feeling that their schools are relatively prepared to handle disputes among students, between students and the schools, and between parents and the schools. In addition, some schools have data indicating that conflict resolution programs have reduced fighting and suspensions on the campuses, and anecdotal evidence suggests that such campuses are quieter and more peaceful than they were before the programs began.

Interviews of faculty and other staff at 14 California schools helped us identify the key elements and best practices of conflict resolution programs. We learned that effective programs incorporate three essential approaches that together involve everyone in the school community: the training of students to act as peer mediators for other students who have disputes; the incorporation of conflict resolution principles into students' regular academic curriculums; and the education of all members of the school community, including parents, about methods for alleviating conflicts. Further, the most comprehensive, thorough programs use peer mediators who adequately represent their schools' populations, perform mediations as soon as possible, and receive prompt evaluations from adults about the mediation sessions. These programs also tailor conflict resolution education to the needs of the particular schools' students and teach strategies in core classes such as English and History. Finally, these programs strive to train as many people as possible.

Currently, schools have varying resources for implementing such programs, but many schools use their general funds to pay for programs aimed at reducing school violence. Despite many demands on their limited funding, some schools have made conflict resolution programs a high priority and are committed to supplying necessary money and staff resources to run their campuses' programs. Recent legislation provides about $100 million for school safety programs in districts with grades 8 through 12 enrollments, but these districts must decide how exactly they will use the funds and whether they will devote any or all the money to conflict resolution programs.