Preparing Your School to Respond to Reasonably Foreseeable Acts of School Violence
On July 1, 2017 in the State of Colorado, where I live and work, Senate Bill 15-213 went into effect. Also called the Claire Davis School Safety Act, SB15-213 was named after Claire Davis, a student who was shot during an act of targeted violence at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, and later died. The general assembly found that it is “now foreseeable that violence in schools can occur,” and SB15-213 states that schools have a responsibility to keep their students, faculty, staff, and others safe within school facilities and during school sponsored events from reasonably foreseeable acts of actual or attempted violence. The bill defines school violence as murder, first degree assault, and violent sexual assault.
Taking Reasonable Care to Prevent Acts of School Violence
Colorado public and charter schools must be able to demonstrate that they took reasonable care to prevent acts of school violence and are now liable for up to $350,000 if one person is seriously injured or killed in any one occurrence of school violence and up to $900,000 if multiple people are seriously injured or killed in any one occurrence. Although the assailant at Arapahoe High School was targeting the debate team coach (who also worked as the school’s librarian), 17 year-old Claire Davis was unfortunately “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” There are reports that the assailant had made threats and exhibited threatening and concerning behavior prior to the attack, and that a threat assessment was performed.
The Role of Threat Assessment in Prevention
While ultimately, the violent attack at Arapahoe High School was not prevented, FBI and Justice Department experts agree that the best strategy to prevent targeted violence is the threat assessment and management team. Many institutions of higher education use a variant of the Threat Assessment Team (TAT) called a Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT).
When looking at the responsibility that schools have in reasonably foreseeing acts of school violence, it is helpful to understand that targeted violence is predatory in nature, meaning that offenders do not “just snap.” Offenders of targeted violence move along a pathway that often begins with a grievance and progresses to an ideation or thought of violence, and then to research, planning, and preparation. This progression can occur over a matter of days or years, but there are recognizable and identifiable indicators or warning signs, when you know what to look for.
When bystanders and school employees recognize and report threats and dangerous, threatening, or concerning behaviors, a TAT or BIT can investigate, assess, and manage the threat and work to keep everyone safe from acts of school violence.
The Importance of Training and the 21st Century Safe School
One of the results of the enactment of SB15-213 is that school districts, charter schools, and their employees will pursue appropriate training and professional development to protect students, staff, and others from acts of school violence.
As schools increasingly adopt 21st century learning strategies, it is also important to include advanced safety training in the professional development plans for educators. A holistic and comprehensive 21st century learning approach to school safety takes into consideration the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of every student. By creating 21st Century Safe Schools, educators can positively impact student achievement and success as well as mitigate risk of violence and enhance the safety of every student.
Is Your School a 21st Century Safe School?
As a parent or school administrator, how would you answer these important questions about your school’s safety?
- Does your school have a Threat Assessment Team (TAT) or Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT)?
- What kind of training has your TAT or BIT received?
- What kind of training have school personnel received on recognizing warning signs of targeted violence?
- What kind of training have school personnel received on suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention?
- Does your school have an active shooter protocol in its Emergency Action Plan?
- How many times a year does your school train for an active shooter?
- Is your school’s active shooter training evidence-based and conducted by security professionals with appropriate credentials?
- What is the lockdown procedure at your school?
- What is the protocol for communication with parents and reunification after an emergency?
- What training is required for students and staff regarding sexual assault awareness and prevention?
- What is the procedure for reporting an actual or attempted sexual assault?
- What protocols are in place for recovery after a crisis?
SB15-213 asserts that parents have an expectation that when they send their children to school that they will be safe. Schools must make every effort to meet that expectation.
Senate Bill 15-213 Retrieved from https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/SB15-213.pdf
US Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation (2016). Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks. US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation.