Dewey Cornell, Ph.D. and Associates

School Violence Prevention Program

Train your threat assessment team.

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What is school threat assessment?

Threat assessment began as a law enforcement activity to protect public figures and prevent workplace violence. However, our model of school threat assessment has been adapted to reflect the goals of educating students and fostering their healthy social-emotional development. School threat assessment is a problem-solving approach to violence prevention that focuses on helping students in distress and resolving problems before they escalate into violence. Teams want to avoid over-reacting to threats that are not serious, yet take appropriate protective action in cases that are serious. School threat assessment involves both assessment and intervention, since threatening behavior often signals a need for support services which can be short-term or ongoing. As our research has shown, very few cases require long-term suspension, arrest, or criminal charges.



who is on the team?

Each school creates a threat assessment team made up of staff from its school, although some districts will also have a central team to assist schools in challenging cases. A typical team will include a school administrator (e.g., principal or assistant principal), one or more mental health professionals (such as a school psychologist, counselor, and social worker), and a law enforcement officer (often a school resource officer). Depending on school staffing patterns, some schools will choose to include teachers, a school nurse, or others who have expertise working with troubled students. School-based teams are preferred because they know the students, they can respond quickly, and they will be able to implement and monitor interventions.

 



How are teams trained?

We provide a one-day workshop for threat assessment teams because we know that it is difficult to assemble teams for more than a day of training.  A one-day workshop is sufficient to get teams started, but team members will want to read our 154-page manual and use some of our on-line programs to continue their training. Our model capitalizes on skills that team members already have and gives them a systematic, evidence-based way to gather information and make decisions.  Typically, we train teams from 10-30 schools in one workshop. The workshop fee is the same regardless of group size. A practical limit on group size is that you need a room where teams can sit together at tables. Our workshops include a lot of team exercises and discussion.


What is covered in the workshop?

  1. Rationale for threat assessment
    Misconceptions about the nature and scope of school violence
    Ineffective responses to school violence - zero tolerance discipline and excessive security measures
    Public health approach to prevention using a multi-tiered model - prevention, not prediction of violence
    Case study of a school shooting that illustrates the need for threat assessment

  2. How to conduct a threat assessment
    FBI and Secret Service/Department of Education principles of threat assessment
    Development of the Virginia model, including the decision tree and interview process (including practice interview)
    How to identify and resolve transient threats
    How to identify and resolve substantive threats  
    Mental health assessments - when, why, and how

  3. Cases studies illustrating the three pathways to violence
    Conflict pathway
    Antisocial pathway
    Psychotic pathway

  4. Research support for threat assessment
    Brief and non-technical overview of the field tests, controlled studies, and large-scale implementation study
    Benefits of threat assessment - low rates of threats being carried out, reductions in school suspension, reductions in racial/ethnic disparities in discipline, improvements in school climate

  5. Legal and practical issues
    Confidentiality and the need to warn potential victims, the Tarasoff case, what FERPA permits schools to do
    Liability - how threat assessment provides protection

  6. Team exercises to resolve transient and substantive threats of violence

  7. Next steps in implementing threat assessment at your school
    Free online training
    Orientation for students, parents, and staff
    Questions and answers on implementation

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The workshop runs approximately 6.5 hours of presentation time, not including breaks. There is a short pre-training and post-training evaluation form that allows us to give schools an evaluation report after the workshop. Prior to the workshop we provide a 50+ page PDF that has workshop slides, threat assessment forms, and case exercises that schools can copy and provide to all participants AND to any other school staff in their school system. Our threat assessment forms are available as Word documents that schools are free to customize and use within their school system at no cost. Schools are provided with free access to online educational programs that cover the following topics: orientation to threat assessment for students, parents, and staff; advanced training for threat assessment teams. The workshop does not include purchase of the manual, Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines, which is a separate cost. (Note that the original manual, Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence, has been updated with the 2018 publication of Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines.) We recommend that schools purchase manuals for each workshop participant, or minimally every team. Manuals are $50 each, with a discount for quantities > 20. Contact us for more information.