Educators gather for a K-12 threat assessment conference

Regional educators, law enforcement, school social workers and counselors gathered at Boise State University on Tuesday for an in-depth discussion of threat assessment at K-12 schools.

Tuesday’s conference, hosted by the Idaho School Safety & Security Program, centered on building behavioral intervention teams to support struggling students and assess whether a student might be a threat to themselves or the school environment.

“If we help students before they pose a threat, we reduce the likelihood they will ever pose a threat,” said Makenzie Schiemann, president of the National Association for Behavioral Intervention (NABITA).

Makenzie Schiemann, left, and W. Scott Lewis, speakers at the 2021 Behavioral Threat Assessment conference.

Schiemann and W. Scott Lewis, a co-founder of NABITA, walked educators through structuring a behavioral intervention team, using rubrics to assess students’ wellbeing and risk behaviors, and ways to intervene to help youth. At the outset, the speakers referenced Idaho’s recent school shooting in Rigby and told educators that they could leave the room if at any point they felt overwhelmed or needed a break.

Speakers walked through the process of evaluating a student who stopped engaging in class, investigating threatening emails sent from a student to a teacher and recapped lessons learned from past crises like the 2018 shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students died.

The Idaho School Safety & Security program (formerly the Office of School Safety and Security) has advised schools on behavioral threat assessment and management since its establishment in 2016. Mike Munger, program manager, said he also recommends NABITA framework for districts interested in creating behavioral intervention teams. Speakers on Tuesday emphasized the importance of building teams who know about different pieces of a students’ life and can help contextualize issues at school.

Tyler Mills, the assistant principal at Idaho Fall’s Hillcrest High, drove to Tuesday’s conference to learn about more ways his district can help support students through difficult situations. This year, Mills and his school resource officer intervened with a student who was struggling with personal challenges, and learned the student had been thinking about what it would be like to shoot someone, or bring a gun to school, Mills said. While there was no specific threat to the school, Mills considers it a diversion from a situation that “could have escalated.”

Hillcrest has a behavioral intervention process in place, Mills said, but he’s hoping to work with the district’s counselors and new social-emotional health coordinator to strengthen the process.

“We just feel like mental and social emotional learning and awareness for our students is crucial. We want to help our students and we want to support our students,” he said.

Munger said it’s difficult to say how many Idaho schools have existing behavior-intervention teams in place, because districts call their teams by different names or evaluate students’ academics separately from their behavior. Teachers have long helped solve students’ individual challenges, Munger said, but evaluating student behavior through a structured framework can help identify and solve a student’s issues more broadly.

“It’s not that that student is in distress just in class,” Munger said. “Usually there is more going on that we can help identify and help support.”

As students return from a global pandemic, speakers said, having teams in place to identify concerns is as important as ever.

“Regardless of what our kids went through over the course of the last year, they’re carrying a heavy load… probably more this coming year than any other year,” Munger told the participants. “We have a really important preventative role to be able to play.”

Tuesday’s K-12 conference kicks off the Idaho Threat Assessment Conference hosted by  Boise State University from June 8-10. The next two days are focused more broadly on workplace threat assessment.

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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