Newsletters

July 2020

Prevention and Intervention: An Understanding of Behavioral Threat Assessments

From the Director

Welcome to the July 2020 issue of the NSBA Center for Safe School’s Quarterly Newsletter, a benefit of your subscription.

As school districts work on returning in the fall, reopening district offices, and resuming in-person services, questions abound about what that will look like. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an ever-growing list of new challenges for our schools and communities. With empty buildings and campuses, the emphasis is on distance learning, not on crisis preparation. However, there will come a time when teachers, students, and staff return to campus and, hopefully, a return to what will be the new normal.

As schools focus on how to safely return and adhere to guidelines like social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning recommendations, they must also not lose sight of additional school safety procedures that have been growing in importance. The Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety outlines steps and recommendations to prevent, protect and mitigate, and respond to school crisis and potential tragedies. With this in mind, emergency management is the detection, prevention, and management of critical events and emergencies. By working together, schools and community partners can focus on crisis and emergency preparedness, including efforts to build a positive, prevention-based, school culture. This issue will focus on one key area aligned to mitigating the risk of school violence: behavioral threat assessments.

The challenges our students, families, and communities face are significant and real. We are seeing increased exposure to traumatic situations and increased mental health concerns. Our students need support more than ever. As schools continue to plan to return, it is important to have procedures and protocols in place to accurately assess and support their students. Behavioral threat assessments are an invaluable tool in this process, providing schools with the steps to identify students who may be in crisis and provide them with the holistic supports they desperately need.

Additionally, current events have shown us that we cannot ignore that institutional racism is rooted in our country. Our education system is no different. It is crucial that schools are fully aware of what behavioral threat assessments are, and what they are not. Schools must also have a clear understanding of their practices to ensure they are done equitably and with fidelity.

We hope the articles and resources in this issue help to deepen your understanding of behavioral threat assessments and the steps that our schools and districts can take. Please reach out with any questions or comments using the online discussion group to engage other subscribers from around the country or via center4safeschools@nsba.org.

Thank you for your continued interest and commitment to helping foster safe schools for all our students and district employees.

Adam Lustig
Director, NSBA Center for Safe Schools

Newsletters

October 2020
The Value of Sports and Performance Programs: Understanding the Benefits and Prioritizing Programs Through a Pandemic

July 2020
Prevention and Intervention: An Understanding of Behavioral Threat Assessments

May 2020
The COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned

January 2020
Cybersecurity: Understanding the Threats and Risks

October 2019
Rethinking Bullying Prevention

Featured Articles

Boy sitting on a desk slouching

Proceed with Caution: The Challenges and Realities of Implementing Student Threat Assessment Systems in Schools

By Mark Concordia

School violence has increasingly come into the public eye due to deadly multiple shootings. The possibility of school shootings has become an issue for urban, rural, and suburban communities alike... schools have experienced multiple-victim homicides, many in communities where people previously believed "it couldn't happen here."

Read More

Two men talking

Building a Holistic Safety and Security Framework

By Bruno Dias

When school districts develop safety and security plans, often they incorporate school safety in mission and value statements. They seem to recognize the value of creating safe learning environments. However, despite having good intentions, many districts lack a formal plan that outlines how their safety and security objectives will be implemented.

Read More

National Statistics and Resources

From Protecting America’s Schools – A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence (2019)

The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) studied 41 incidents of targeted school violence that occurred at K-12 schools in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017. This report builds on 20 years of NTAC research and guidance in the field of threat assessment by offering an in-depth analysis of the motives, behaviors, and situational factors of the attackers, as well as the tactics, resolutions, and other operationally relevant details of the attacks.

Key findings from this report:

  • There is no profile of a student attacker, nor is there a profile for the type of school that has been targeted. Attackers varied in age, gender, race, grade level, academic performance, and social characteristics.
    • Rather than concentrating on a set of traits or characteristics, a threat assessment process should focus on gathering relevant information about a student’s behaviors, situational factors, and circumstances to assess the risk of violence or other harmful outcomes.
  • Attackers usually had multiple motives, the most common involving a grievance with classmates. In addition, attackers were also motivated by grievances involving school staff, romantic relationships, or other personal issues.
  • Most attackers used firearms, and firearms were most often acquired from the home.
  • Most attackers had experienced psychological, behavioral, or developmental symptoms. The observable mental health symptoms displayed by attackers prior to their attacks were divided into three main categories: psychological (e.g., depressive symptoms or suicidal ideation), behavioral (e.g., defiance/misconduct or symptoms of ADD/ADHD), and neurological/developmental (e.g., developmental delays or cognitive deficits).
  • Half of the attackers had interests in violent topics.
  • All attackers experienced social stressors involving their relationships with peers and/or romantic partners. Attackers experienced stressors in various areas of their lives, with nearly all experiencing at least one in the six months prior to their attack, and half within two days of the attack.
  • Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors. The negative home life factors experienced by the attackers included parental separation or divorce, drug use or criminal charges among family members, and domestic abuse.
  • Most attackers were victims of bullying, which was often observed by others.
  • Most attackers had a history of school disciplinary actions, and many had prior contact with law enforcement.
  • All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors. Most elicited concern from others, and most communicated their intent to attack.

View the Full Report

From the National Center for Education Statistics, in School Year 2015-16:

  • about 24% of public primary schools, 56% of public middle schools, 71% of public high schools reported use of security enforcement and patrol for sworn law enforcement officers.
  • about 26% of public primary schools, 59% of public middle schools, 73% of public high schools reported coordinating with local policy and emergency team(s).
  • about 16% of public primary schools, 33% of public middle schools, 47% of public high schools reported training teachers and staff in school safety or crime prevention.
  • about 18% of public primary schools, 50% of public middle schools, 67% of public high schools reported providing information to school authorities about the legal definitions of behavior for recording or reporting purposes. (An example of legal definitions is defining assault for school authorities.)
  • only about 11% of public primary schools, 24% of public middle schools, 29% of public high schools reported teaching a law-related education course or training students. (Examples of law-related education courses include drug-related education, criminal law, or crime prevention courses.)

Data is from: National Center for Education Statistics
https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ssocs/tables/tab_33_2016_pr.asp?referrer=css
https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ssocs/tables/tab_33_2016_md.asp?referrer=css
https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ssocs/tables/tab_33_2016_hs.asp?referrer=css

Additional Resources

NSBA Fostering Safer Schools - A Legal Guide for School Board Members on Schools Safety
NSBA legal guidance on issues that need our attention as we work to improve school safety. These include student mental health, crisis management, working with law enforcement, and legal liability.

The Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety
The Federal Commission on School Safety is charged with providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. These recommendations include a range of issues, like social-emotional support, recommendation on effective school safety infrastructure, discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases, and the impact that video games and the media have on violence.

National Association of School Psychologists: Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM): Best Practice Considerations for K–12 Schools
This resource provides a fact-based, systematic process designed to identify, assess, and manage potentially dangerous or violent situations.

SchoolSafety.gov
SchoolSafety.gov was created by the federal government to provide schools and districts with actionable recommendations to create a safe and supportive learning environment where students can thrive and grow.

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools - Guide for Developing High-Level School Emergency Operations Plans
Created in collaboration with the departments of Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Health and Human Services, FEMA and the FBI, this resource provides guidance and best practices for schools, in collaboration with their local government and community partners, on steps to take to plan for potential emergencies through the creation of a school Emergency Operations Plan.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Caring for Children in a Disaster
Provides resources and guidance to support students and staff through potential disasters.

Federal Emergency Management Agency - Preparedness Tips for School Administrators
Provides information for school administrators and leadership to use as they consider youth and disaster preparedness in their districts.

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools - Forming a School Behavioral Threat Assessment Team
Provides an overview of the School Safety Initiative and recommendations and best practices for forming a behavioral threat assessment team.

Protecting America’s Schools – A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence
The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) studied 41 incidents of targeted school violence that occurred at K-12 schools in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017. This report builds on 20 years of NTAC research and guidance in the field of threat assessment by offering an in-depth analysis of the motives, behaviors, and situational factors of the attackers, as well as the tactics, resolutions, and other operationally relevant details of the attacks.