A Parent's Guide to School Safety Toolkit
2.8 School Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management
In 2019, the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released a report after studying 41 incidents of targeted school violence that took place in U.S. K-12 schools between 2008-2017. After studying the behaviors, motives, and tactics of the school attackers, their research suggested that many of the attacks could have been prevented. While there is no profile for a school attacker, most of the targeted violence incidents were not impulsive in nature and other people often knew about the attacker’s plan. A report published in 2021 confirmed that many attacks are preventable. After studying 67 incidents of disrupted plots against K-12 schools between 2006-2018, the NTAC found that those who are considering targeted school violence often exhibit observable behaviors, and when those behaviors are reported to the appropriate people, tragedies can be avoided. Additionally, those who plotted school attacks almost always shared their intent to do so with others.
An effective threat assessment team is a critical component to keeping schools safe. Passed in 2019, Senate Bill 11 addresses threat assessment in public school districts and open-enrollment charter school districts. Texas is one of a few states where it is now required by law for schools to have a safe and supportive school program (SSSP) team that conducts behavioral threat assessments. The board of trustees of each school district must establish a SSSP team to serve each campus of the district. A team may serve more than one campus, but each campus must have a team assigned to it.
What is behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM)?
The NTAC has established a system to report, capture, and work to intervene in situations with concerning and prohibited behaviors in schools. Behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM) provides a proactive, evidence-based approach for objectively reviewing information which may indicate a person is on the pathway to violence and providing interventions before a violent incident occurs.
There is a “pathway to violence” that is typically taken by those who engage in acts of targeted violence. Prior to engaging in violence, an individual often begins with having thoughts of violence, then progresses to planning the violence, before moving on to preparing for the violent act by obtaining needed materials or weapons. The individual then proceeds with the implementation of the plan.
A key goal of threat assessment and management is distinguishing between making a threat and posing a threat.
Who should be on the SSSP team conducting behavioral threat assessments?
The superintendent of the district is responsible for ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that the members appointed to each school SSSP team have expertise in:
- Behavior management
- Mental health and substance use
- Classroom instruction
- Special education
- School administration
- School safety and security
- Emergency management
- Law enforcement
Bringing together individuals with varied backgrounds, knowledge, and experience helps in assessing threats and risk levels of individuals and situations. The existence of multiple perspectives allows the team to reach a balanced decision about an individual’s risk of harm.
What training do team members receive?
The TxSSC, in coordination with TEA, developed model policies and procedures to assist school districts in establishing and training SSSP teams. Each team must receive training provided by the TxSSC or a regional education service center (ESC). The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) of the U.S. Secret Service offers an 8-step comprehensive targeted violence prevention plan to assist school districts in forming SSSP teams and creating behavioral threat assessment processes.
What behaviors merit action from the SSSP team?
The SSSP team is responsible for collecting and analyzing harmful, threatening, and violent behavior; assessing threat and risk levels; and determining appropriate interventions. The Texas Education Code (TEC 37:115(a)) lists the following as “harmful, threatening or violent” behaviors:
- Verbal threats
- Threats of self-harm
- Use or possession of a weapon
- Sexual assault
- Sexual harassment
- Dating violence
Is law enforcement always involved?
Concerns that are brought to the team’s attention may or may not warrant law enforcement intervention. However, an individual with law enforcement expertise is required to be on the threat assessment team. It is beneficial to have a law enforcement officer on the team, but the case will need to meet the threshold established by the team or by law to warrant immediate law enforcement intervention. Examples may include physical violence, threats of violence, a planned school attack, or behaviors involving weapons.
What are the outcomes of the school behavioral threat assessment process?
The SSSP team identifies available resources in their school, community, or through virtual technology that can be utilized as part of their intervention and risk reduction plans. When an individual or situation is brought to their attention, the team reviews the reported or observed behavior, investigates to determine whether it poses a threat, and decides what resources the individual might benefit from. Resources are identified for the person of concern and any targets or victims.
The team identifies interventions that are focused on the root cause of the factors that caused the individual to become a threat to self or others. The intervention plan may be short or long term based on the severity of the situation and may include a referral for mental health services or an initial request for special education services. Immediate, credible threats of self-harm or harm to others are considered prohibited behaviors and need to be reported to law enforcement to protect life.
If the team identifies a student who is at risk for suicide, they are to follow their district’s suicide prevention policies and procedures. If this student also makes a threat of violence to others, the team will conduct a threat assessment, in addition to following their district’s suicide prevention policies and procedures.
If the team identifies a student who is possessing or using tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, they are to follow their district’s substance use prevention and intervention policies and procedures.
When can (or will) information be shared?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student educational records. It does not cover verbal communications, observations, or other information that team members may share. School officials such as teachers, counselors, or administrators with a legitimate educational interest may access FERPA-protected education records.
FERPA authorizes school officials to disclose information, without consent, in emergency situations where the health or safety of students is at risk. Relevant information can be released to law enforcement, public health, and medical officials.
Information obtained through a school official’s personal knowledge or observation can be disclosed. Specifically, notes, drawings, pictures, anonymous tips, security videos, and all investigating interviews are not protected under FERPA, and a threat assessment team is not violating anyone’s rights by collecting this data to drive their assessment of a reported threat or concern.
Does SBTA prevent all attacks?
The School Behavioral Threat Assessment process objectively identifies, assesses, and manages risks of violence to the school environment, focusing on intervention. Existence of a SSSP team does not guarantee the absence of active threats, but rather it requires the assistance of everyone in the school environment, students, and school staff, to report all concerning behaviors. School safety is a shared responsibility.
How does my child report behaviors?
The SSSP team provides guidance to staff and students on recognizing “harmful, threatening, or violent” behaviors which may pose a threat to safety. Each district should have behavior reporting procedures in place. Talk with your child about reporting tools to communicate behaviors that make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Ask your district if you do not know what platform they use.
Will I be notified if my child is the subject of a SSSP team investigation?
Districts will notify you according to district policy unless the SSSP team determines that a student poses a serious risk of violence. If a student poses a serious risk of violence, the team will contact the superintendent who will immediately attempt to contact the student’s parents or guardian. School district staff may act immediately to prevent an imminent threat or to respond to an emergency. See TEC 37:115(h) for more information
What Should My Child Know?
School safety is a shared responsibility, and every person plays a part in keeping their school safe and free from violence and bullying.
Their school has a Safe and Supportive School Program whose purpose is to ensure your child’s safety at school.
The team investigates all concerns objectively and every report will be investigated.
It is not about getting someone in trouble. In fact, by telling someone, your child is getting help to the person who needs it and providing a way to prevent harm to self or others. Telling someone saves lives.
All safety concerns need to be reported. Your child can report concerns through the anonymous reporting system or through telling a school employee, parent, or guardian.
How to use the anonymous reporting system and that it is truly anonymous.
- United States Secret Service Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools (2021)
- National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence
- National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence
- Threat Assessment and Safe and Supportive School Program and Team: TEC 37.115