- A new state law in New Jersey requires all public school districts to create school-based threat assessment teams to help identify and assess students at risk of committing violent acts or other harmful activity. The teams need to be in place by the start of the 2023-24 school year.
- The law requires that school threat assessments teams be multidisciplinary and include to the extent possible a school psychologist, counselor or social worker, a teacher, an administrator, and a school resource officer or school employee who serves as a liaison to law enforcement. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed the measure into law Aug. 1, after its unanimous passage by the state legislature in June.
- While other states and local school systems are also formalizing or improving threat assessment procedures in response to recent violence on school campuses, disability and civil rights advocates warn the approach could lead to discriminatory practices.
The New Jersey Department of Education is working with state law enforcement agencies and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to develop guidelines for threat assessment teams, according to a statement from Murphy's office.
The law requires that each threat assessment team member participate in training that covers adverse childhood experiences, childhood trauma, cultural competency and implicit bias.
At the same time, the training must ensure that threat assessments don't have a disparate impact on students based on their race, ethnicity, homelessness status, religious belief, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.
“It is my hope that these threat assessment teams will help students and school employees feel safe and out of harm’s way when they are at school, and for students who are considered to be a threat to receive the much-needed help they need at such a crucial time in their lives,” Murphy said in a statement.
According to the New Jersey law, if a student with disabilities is a focus of a threat assessment, team members need to consult with that student's individualized education program team or Section 504 team.
Threat assessments provide a formal system for the sensitive process of gathering information to evaluate the probability of a student causing harm to others. They also reduce the potential for overreactions and inappropriate decisions, according to proponents of this approach.
Opponents, however, say threat assessments cause more harm than good because they contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, cause lasting trauma to the students who are the focus of threat assessments and lead to informal school removals for students with disabilities.
Discipline guidance for students with disabilities released by the U.S. Department of Education in July said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act doesn't require or prohibit a risk or threat assessment when a student with disabilities violates a school's code of conduct. But the guidance does say the student's due process rights must be protected if they are being assessed.
The Education Department also recommended that school personnel involved in threat assessments understand IDEA's discipline provisions. Civil and disability rights organizations have warned governments against "hardening schools" and discriminatory practices as they take steps to prevent school violence.
Florida schools were required to have threat assessment teams after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. State law there requires that all school-based threat assessment teams use the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines’ tool.
A Florida safety commission, however, found schools are using different threat procedures and reporting approaches, according to a presentation at an Aug. 2 meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
The presentation said a survey of Florida's school districts found disparities in reporting platforms for threat assessments. For instance:
- 18 districts have dedicated software systems provided by four different vendors.
- Two districts developed their own proprietary systems.
- 21 districts have incorporated reporting into their student information systems.
- Nine districts use "pen and paper."
- 14 districts are using Excel, Google Docs or similar software.
Five districts didn't respond to the survey.
In Texas, a representative from the U.S. Secret Service spoke about threat assessment practices to 600 public school educators, administrators and law enforcement officers at a day-long Safety Summit this summer, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.
TASB said that since 2019, districts in Texas are required to have Safe and Supportive School Teams to conduct behavioral threat assessments. Every school campus must have access to a team but a team can serve more than one campus.
"Every day thousands of parents entrust us with their children, and our students often spend more time in our care than they do at home,” said Robert Bostic, superintendent of Stafford Municipal School District, in a statement from TASB. “Our campuses and classrooms should remain places for thinking, learning, and fun.”