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What You Need to Know About Threat Assessment Teams

Article

Think about everyone who supports quality education in your schools, beyond teachers. The transportation team gets kids to class and home safely. Food service staff provides nutritious meals. Maintenance teams keep HVAC systems humming and facilities comfortable.

Threat assessment teams apply that same “it takes a village” principle to address a risk that too often devastates not only staff and students but also their communities: school violence.

Tragic Trend

The FBI defines an active shooter incident as one or more people actively engaging in killing or trying to kill in a populated area by firearm. In May, the agency released a report that showed in 2021:

  • Active shooter incidents surged by more than 50 percent compared with 2020 and 97 percent compared with 2017.
  • Across 30 states, active shooters killed 103 people and wounded 140 more. In 2020, active shooters in 19 states claimed 38 lives and wounded 126.
  • California logged the most reported incidents (six), followed by five each in Georgia and Texas.

The FBI counts K-12 schools among 11 locations where the public is most at risk of being involved in an active shooter incident. School threat assessment teams help prevent tragedy by supporting individuals who show signs of harming themselves, others, or both.

Threat Assessment Is Proactive

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:

  • Counseling
  • 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:

  • Education
  • 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 including the core group of team members required by law, you can consider additional contributors as needed for individual assessments. They could be internal to the district or external.

Either way, additional contributors should bring diverse expertise to assess risk and provide appropriate interventions and support to the individual. Local mental health professionals, law enforcement, and public health employees might be good candidates.

For example, a student assessment 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 typically focus on students, but the process is flexible enough to assess risks from other sources.  

Threat Assessment Process

There is no formula for 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.

Have Safety and Security or Emergency Management Questions? 

Members with Auto, Liability, Property, and Workers’ Compensation coverage can request training and support from Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss at 800-482-7276, x2868 or melanie.moss@tasb.org.

Melanie Moss headshot
Melanie Moss

Melanie Moss joined TASB Risk Management Services as an emergency management and school security consultant in 2013. She helps members develop comprehensive emergency management programs and understand their regulatory responsibilities.

Moss began her career in emergency management in 2006, serving as the public information and crisis communications coordinator for Williamson County, where she provided support to school districts in Williamson and Travis Counties.

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