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Secret Service: To prevent violence, schools need stronger reporting systems

threat assessment in schools

When it comes to school shootings, it’s easy to feed into stereotypes.

Loner; bullying victim; mentally ill. Such terms are often associated with our conception of students who commit violent acts in schools.

But, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, school leaders, and mental health professionals to detect predictable patterns around school violence, a new report from the U.S. Secret Service says identifying common personality characteristics among school shooters is nearly impossible.

“There is no profile of a student attacker,” the report definitively states.

Instead of looking at a student’s personality traits or school performance for signs of threats, the Secret Service recommends a threat assessment approach to recognizing and preventing potential school violence:

“These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular. Rather than focusing solely on a student’s personality traits or school performance, we can learn much more about a students’ risk for violence by working through the threat assessment process, which is designed to gather the most relevant information about the student’s communication and behaviors, the negative or stressful events the student has experienced, and the resources the student possesses to overcome those setbacks and challenges.”

The report outlines seven steps to develop a model of threat assessment in schools:

1. Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team

To lead the threat assessment process, schools should establish centralized teams of teachers, school counselors, resource officers, mental health professionals, and administrators who can document threats and assess the need for intervention strategies, the report says.

2. Define prohibited and concerning behaviors

Additionally, schools should work to develop policies that outline what student behaviors require immediate intervention, be it acts of violence, threats, bringing weapons to schools, or others.

3. Create a central reporting mechanism

More often than not, school threats are discovered through everyday interactions–both in-person and online. When it comes to school violence or self-harm, a student’s peers play a pivotal role in recognizing and reporting signs of trouble. The Secret Service report encourages school districts to develop and adopt systems that allow students, teachers, and others to report potential threats:

“Schools can establish one or more reporting mechanisms, such as an online form posted on the school website, a dedicated email address or phone number, smart phone application platforms, or another mechanism that is accessible for a particular school community.”

 

4. Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention

Not every threat reported to a school requires law enforcement involvement. But, for those that do, school leaders need to determine specific protocols for informing police. Including school resource officers or a local law enforcement representative on the district threat assessment team can also help streamline this process, the report says.

5. Establish assessment procedures

When potential threats do arise, threat assessment teams should follow a predetermined set of steps to assess the threat and intervene if necessary. The report outlines a series of themes around which teams can investigate potential threats, including the student’s motives, concerning or threatening communications, or access to weapons.

6. Develop risk management options

If a threat assessment determines that a student is at risk of committing a violent act, the next step is to develop strategies for reducing that risk. Because every student’s situation is different, the report suggests adopting individualized management plans for students who are seen as potential risks.

7. Create and promote safe school climates

While individual threat assessments are important to school safety, the Secret Service encourages districts to take a hard look at the culture in their schools–and to determine whether they promote safety, trust, respect, and social-emotional health. Transforming school climate goes beyond the scope of threat assessment and requires a schoolwide or districtwide strategy. But it’s vital to ensuring a safe environment for students.

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A culture of safety

At the Klein Independent School District in Texas, administrators recently launched an online portal called Keep Klein Safe. Accessible from the district website, the online destination gives parents, students, and community members a safe place to read security information, ask questions, and report threats. The system is monitored by the district’s internal police department.Keep Klein Safe school safety

“Students are our eyes and ears,” says Justin Elbert, Klein ISD’s community relations manager. “They know their friends and their community better than we ever could, and we needed to find a way to tap into that.”

Elbert says Keep Klein Safe not only helps the district recognize and assess potential threats, it also engenders a sense of trust and security among students, parents, staff, and local law enforcement.

“When a child gets a response from the chief of police or one of the captains, there’s nothing more reassuring. We’re not going to get to see that word of mouth, but I know that kid is 100-percent going to tell their friends that they talked to the chief of police and show them the response.”

Is your school or district system reviewing its security protocols this year? What steps are you taking to assess safety and security? Tell us in the comments. Want to learn more about what Klein ISD and other districts are doing? Sign up for a free consult here.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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