Security protocols let schools respond to threats

School systems across the country rely on the high-level expertise of the U.S. Secret Service and others to stay vigilant for signs of potential student violence, train staff, monitor social media, and urge others to warn them. .

However, when it comes to responding to a potential threat, it is local educators who are making the call.

In the November 30 shooting at a high school in Oxford Township, Mich., Authorities said the 15-year-old student accused of killing four classmates was allowed to stay in school despite disturbing behavior , including a drawing of a handgun and a gunshot wound. . The management of the pupil by the school before the shooting is one of the subjects under study.

Safety experts and school administrators say there are detailed tips to help schools recognize behaviors regarding and when to intervene. But exactly how to respond, including whether to remove students from school property or involve law enforcement, is up to school officials to decide in each individual case.

Educators regularly assess how to deal with behaviors that can range from mentioning weapons in social media posts to students ‘joking’ about bomb threats, while balancing security and legal issues. ‘a pupil in education.

“There is no perfect protocol for school safety and crisis response,” said Stephen Brock, senior author on Program Topics for the National Association of School Psychologists.

The widely accepted best practices for threat assessment have been adapted from Secret Service guidelines developed in the years following the Columbine School massacre in 1999. The agency’s National Threat Assessment Center recommends creating multidisciplinary teams of school administrators, safety and mental health professionals to assess whether a student would be assisted by counseling, reported to police, sent back to class, or something in between.

Establishing a general policy – for example, always sending students home for certain acts – would be like stepping back to an era of zero tolerance policies, where everyone was punished but few students received help, Lina said. Alathari, head of the national secret service. Threat Assessment Center.

“You have to rely on your assessment to guide your response, which is why this multidisciplinary approach is so important. You want the mental health point of view, but you also want the point of view (responsible for student resources) because they will bring that operational and investigative mindset to asking the questions, if something is an imminent risk. or not, ”she said.

Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Illinois, described an “all responders on bridge” approach, whether it was a report of a student brawl or a serious threat.

He recalled a scenario at one of the district colleges last year, in which a child was heard “indicate that he wanted to do a violent act.” It was almost the end of the day, with little time to investigate. He therefore summoned the police, who arrived in force.

“It was baseless, but we didn’t have time to really do a full investigation,” said Lubelfeld, “so we basically called the cavalry and then informed the community why we did it.”

“I would rather overreact,” he said, “and I can take the criticism for that.”

The Michigan attack came just hours after the accused Ethan Crumbley returned to class after the school summoned him and his parents to discuss disturbing behavior, including the drawing with the gun and the words: “Thoughts will not stop.” Help me. ”Ethan told a counselor that it was part of a video game he was making.

After the shooting, authorities learned that his father had purchased the gun his son had used four days earlier. A prosecutor, in taking the unusual step of accusing the parents of manslaughter, said James and Jennifer Crumbley knew their son had access to the gun, but did not tell him after seeing the drawing and said. refused to bring him home from school. After the meeting. They pleaded not guilty.

There are legal considerations for schools, especially if a student’s behavior does not pose an imminent risk, said Melissa Reeves, psychologist and co-author of the NASP program.

If the parents do not agree with the school and the situation does not seem to merit the intervention of a social service agency, “our hands are tied because we are legally obliged to educate”, he said. she declared. “We cannot deny access to education.

Districts have been sued by parents claiming schools overreacted and unfairly punished students for harmless remarks or actions or under-responded to tragic consequences.

“You are damned if you do, you are damned if you don’t,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, a national group of superintendents. In this pandemic-disrupted third school year, he said, students are taking action more than ever, putting even more strain on those charged with determining whether a student is letting off steam or about to to burst.

Meriden, Connecticut Superintendent Mark Benigni, said the district was pushed back for searching students’ bags, sending them home or involving the police.

“The last thing I want to do is keep a kid out of school, I know he can’t learn when he’s not around,” he said. “But at the end of the day, my obligation is to make sure that I create a safe environment, and I’m not going to apologize when I have to suspend a student.”

Towards the start of the school year in September, an email threat from a high school student circulated among students at schools in Fleming County, Kentucky. The student was expelled after a review by the district threat assessment team. Superintendent Brian Creasman said the student did not have access to weapons, but the team determined the student needed help.

“We’re going to take the time necessary to make sure that we don’t put that student who might be having trouble in a classroom who might get hurt or hurt others,” Creasman said.

“It’s not necessarily about punishing the child for communicating the threat,” he said. “We want to help the child cope with what is happening.”

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