How schools handle student threats

8:44 PM, Dec 16, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - 9Wants to Know what Denver-area school administrators do when a student makes a violent treat.

Authorities say Arapahoe High School senior Karl Pierson did make a threat to the school's debate coach earlier this school year. He brought a gun to school Friday and critically wounded another student before taking his own life.

Since 1999, Colorado school districts have created extensive plans to prevent school violence and respond to "active shooter" scenarios.

"We learned the lessons from Columbine," said John McDonald, executive director for security and emergency management at Jefferson County Public Schools. "They were hard lessons."

McDonald's school district, like most in the metro area, conducts threat assessments on students who express a desire to harm themselves or others.

An assessment often begins soon after the threat is reported, sometimes the same day.

"It can't be just what they say," McDonald explains. "It's how they say it and how they act."

A team including teachers, a counselor or psychologist, the student's parents, and school resource officer look at categories like bizarre thoughts, physical clues and obsessions. They rank the student on a scale of 1 to 5. McDonald says 52 students have received threat assessments in JeffCo Schools this year.

"Early intervention can change behavior," McDonald said.

JeffCo students who receive a 1 or 2 on their assessment have the highest potential for violence. Those students are removed from campus until further assessments, discipline, mental health care, police response and/or school safety planning occurs.

"If you do have somebody that's a concern, then you need to start activating what we call countermeasures," said psychologist John Nicoletti, an expert in school violence and threat assessments. "That could be suspending the kids; that could be counseling; that could be a variety of other things".

Nicoletti and McDonald agree student who vocalize threats don't always act on them; however, most school shooters did say or do something that indicated they could or would be violent, prior to their attacks.

"If you are going to broadcast that, then it is up to us to listen to that, pay attention to that," McDonald said.

Nicoletti encourages kids to report concerns about their peers though the Safe2Tell program or a trusted adult.

"That's the biggest thing we have to get them to get over: fear of overreacting," Nicoletti said.

9Wants to Know asked school districts about their policies for responding to student threats:

Cherry Creek School District
• School officials look at threat, try to determine if student has a plan and the means to carry out
• Police are called if it seems to be a viable threat
• Counselors or school psychologist conducts threat assessment
• Goal is to get the child help

Jefferson County Public Schools
• First step: Building Level Threat Assessment - involving student, parents, teachers, counselor, school resource officer
• Student will be removed from school if there is a high threat of potential violence
• High threats also receive a District Level Threat Assessment - including supports, sanctions, and plans to mitigate or prevent violence
• Schools, mental health providers, law enforcement communicate and coordinate

Aurora Public Schools
• Take all threats taken seriously, call police, they investigate and interview those involved, give student due process
• Consequences are issued if true threat, and offer help and support to family
• They do student threat assessments most of the time

Boulder Valley School District
• If there is an immediate threat, they call 911 first
• Policy on staff protection, which is separate from student threats
• Most threat assessments are handled on school level, considered low level or they are in dispute

Adams 12 Five Star Schools
• Actively promote to report any kind of threat to administrator, staff member or Safe2Tell,
• Threats go to local police, crisis plan---reviewed
• Police department contacts the school and police help make determinations for threat assessment

Adams County School District 50
• If someone makes a threat, make a written report a threat assessment, get an opinion
• Not immediately referred to law enforcement

Douglas County School District
• School principal or assistants are made aware
• Internal investigation is conducted and threat assessment is made
• Results: safety plan, proper procedures, discipline
• Generally they do the internal threat assessment before law enforcement is contacted

Adams County School District 50
• Every threat should initiate a threat assessment process
• Develop plan to respond to, manage and support the student who made threat and

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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