School safety and security were priority issues during the 2019 Texas legislative session. Senate Bill (SB) 11 emerged as one of the session’s most comprehensive bills. In part one of our SB 11 series, we explained how new safety and security team requirements impact Fund members. In this installment, we dig deeper into what you need to know about threat assessment and safe and supportive teams.
Though the term “threat assessment and safe and supportive team” is the name given in legislation, the district can name its committee anything. Most are simply called threat assessment teams, which is how we refer to them in this article.
Threat assessment is proactive
Threat assessment teams help prevent tragedy by supporting individuals who show signs of harming themselves, others, or both.
The team’s primary purpose is to develop and implement a safe and supportive school program at each campus. The program should take a comprehensive approach to safety that draws on numerous prevention programs, including but not limited to bullying and suicide prevention.
The threat assessment team:
- Conducts threat assessments regarding people who make threats of violence or exhibit harmful, threatening, or violent behavior
- Provides guidance to students and school employees on recognizing potential threats or harmful behavior
- Supports the district in implementing its multi-hazard emergency operations plan
Districts determine team structure
It is up to each district to determine the structure of its threat assessment team. One team can serve the entire district, or each campus might have its own team. Districts may also use a hybrid model, in which they maintain campus-specific teams and a district oversight committee.
Membership should be multidisciplinary
Districts also can determine who is a member of their threat assessment team. When building a team, focus on individuals who specialize in mental health, safety, law enforcement, special education, and classroom management. According to TASB Policy FFB (Local), the team must complete evidence-based threat assessment training by an approved provider.
Required team members
There are a few roles that must be included on each threat assessment team. Be sure that each campus has access to a team with the following expertise:
- Behavior management
- Mental health and substance use
- Classroom instruction
- Special education
- School administration
- School safety and security
- Emergency management
- Law enforcement
In addition, if the district uses an oversight committee to coordinate multiple campus teams, the oversight committee must include members with expertise in:
- Human resources
A member of the team may have more than one area of expertise. Individuals who serve on the threat assessment team may also serve on the district’s safety and security committee and/or the student health advisory council. Team members may include individuals who are not district employees, but the district should ensure that external team members are accessible when a threat assessment is needed.
Optional team members
In addition to having the core group of team members required by law, you may include additional contributors as needed for individual assessments. These added contributors may be internal to the district or external. These contributors should bring diverse expertise to assess risk and provide appropriate interventions and support to the individual. This includes local mental health professionals, law enforcement, and public health employees. For example, an assessment of a student would ideally include the student’s parent, the student’s mental health provider (if any), and a trusted school employee, like a coach, who knows the student personally.
The process thrives on collaboration
High-profile incidents of violence have shown that parents, school employees, current and former students, and community members can pose security threats. Driven by collaboration with internal and external stakeholders, the threat assessment team can assess risks and recommend appropriate interventions. Assessments will typically focus on students, but the process is flexible enough to be used to assess risks from other sources.
Threat assessment process
There is no formula for accurately determining whether an individual poses a risk to themselves or others. Many who display risk factors will never follow through, and in some cases, those who do not show risk signs may pose a real threat. The use of profiling may lead the team to misidentify individuals as threats rather than help spot people who need intervention and support.
As part of the assessment process, the threat assessment team should consider whether the individual’s behavior indicates intent and capability to carry out a threat, as well as whether he or she is willing to resolve the behavior.
Districts must also develop, define, and update the process for how the team decides what behavior requires an assessment and how that behavior will be categorized for further assessment or follow-up. The committee should develop procedures that are realistic given the student population’s size and the district’s resources.
Encourage reporting: Faculty, staff, and volunteers should be trained to recognize harmful, threatening, or violent behavior. As part of this training, districts should empower everyone to report questionable behavior and allow for anonymous reporting. The threat assessment approach should center on educating the district community on the importance of a safe and secure school climate that focuses on providing interventions before an individual escalates to violence.
Gather data: To determine whether a threat assessment is necessary, the team must gather and analyze data about the individual(s) and the situation. The analysis must consider appropriate information about behaviors, communications, unproven information, any threats made, security concerns, relationship problems, and other issues that may affect the individual. The threat assessment team may also need to identify individuals the person has interacted with or threatened. While gathering data, the team must comply with all applicable laws, including civil rights and privacy laws.
Sources of information may include:
- The student’s parent, in accordance with Texas Education Code Chapter 26 on Parental Rights
- The student’s health and mental health providers, in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- Law enforcement, in accordance with Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 15.27
- Other students, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Conduct an individual assessment: The assessment will be based on available information to determine an individual’s intent. Examples include making or posting threats, as well as the time, opportunity, ability, and desire to complete an act of violence. Once the initial assessment is made, the team will identify the best intervention to support the person’s needs.
Manage risk of a threat
If the person poses a serious risk of violence to self or others, the team will take the following steps:
Notify the superintendent: The team must immediately report threat assessment determinations to the superintendent. If the individual is a student, the superintendent must immediately attempt to inform the student’s parent. In addition, during an emergency, any employee of the school may act right away by calling 911.
Make referrals: Though the threat assessment team includes mental health professionals, members do not typically provide psychological services directly to assessed individuals. If necessary, the team will refer individuals for mental health support from another provider. If the individual receiving the referral is under the age of 18, parental consent is required on a district-provided form that complies with state and federal law.
Follow policies and procedures: If the team identifies an individual who is at risk for suicide or who has substance abuse issues, it should follow applicable district policies and procedures. Policy updates can be found in FFB (LOCAL) as part of TASB Policy Service Update 114.
Share recommendations with other district decision makers: In addition to recommending interventions to reduce a risk of harmful behavior, the team may follow up with district officials making related decisions about an affected student. For example, the team is not authorized to remove a student from his or her educational setting, but the team’s recommendations may be shared with the campus behavior coordinator for consideration in the disciplinary process. Similarly, while the team will include a member with knowledge about special education, the team will not be authorized to address a student’s individual needs through an Individual Education Plan or a Behavior Intervention Plan. Those decisions are made by the student’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee. Ideally, the team’s recommendations would be communicated appropriately to the ARD committee.
Follow up: The threat assessment team should continually reassess the individual or situation to ensure interventions are working and the individual is no longer a risk to themselves or others. If necessary, the team will update its recommendations for intervention or support.
Expert help from the Fund
Fund members who need guidance navigating their new responsibilities under SB 11 can contact Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss at 512.505.2868. Learn more about SB 11, including threat assessment, parental involvement, mental health, safety planning, and security personnel in this TASB Legal memo.