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Threat assessment targets student needs

School safety is on everyone’s mind these days, with good reason. Local district administrators, law enforcement and mental health professionals wasted no time after school let out, holding an all-day training session last week on identifying and responding to threats posed by students and non-students alike.

There is no magic way to point to a troubled youngster and say, “this is the next school shooter.” But there are specific steps that can and should be taken by educators, and last week’s session was focused on standardizing what is called threat assessment across districts and between agencies.

Threat assessments are not new; school officials have been doing them for some time. So have law enforcement agencies and hospitals. But they have been handled on an individual basis. The newer model emphasizes levels of threat, from Level 1, handled in-house, to Level 2, when outside agencies are brought in, including mental health professionals, law enforcement and social workers.

Consultant John van Dreal, outgoing safety and risk management director for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, told the assembled professionals that it’s important to correctly determine whether a student represents a credible threat to themselves or others, and beyond that, to differentiate between a student exhibiting a pattern of aggression and one who may be temporarily reacting to stress with inadequate coping skills.

Either way, the emphasis is on getting the student the help he or she needs, at a level appropriate to the situation.

The goal of local administrators is to develop a unified threat assessment system that is consistent among all school districts and outside agencies. That way, support can follow a student who moves from one district to another.

Too often, especially in the wake of another school shooting, the focus tends to be on physical security — guards, metal detectors, gun restrictions — when attention to emotional and psychological security is every bit as important, if not more so. A student experiencing psychic pain who is identified and embraced by those who can help is far less likely to act out in a violent way.

Laurel Madrone, clinical manager of Asante’s Behavioral Health Unit, described it as a team of professionals “wrapping a kid up in supports.”

More wrapping and more support means more safety and security for everyone.