Threat Assessment Team Training to make schools safer, help students

More than 100 officials from across Kansas on Monday participated in school Threat Assessment Team Training hosted by KASB.

Threat Assessment has been touted as a way to prevent violence by creating teams within schools that will determine if any student conduct constitutes a real threat and work with all students on conflict resolution, bullying prevention and mental health.

Oftentimes, instances of school shootings result in calls by the public and officials to harden facilities with metal detectors, video surveillance and other security measures, such as arming teachers.

However, Frank Zenere, school psychologist and district coordinator of Student Services/Crisis Program for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said security efforts can be overcome.

Zenere said what is needed is for schools to create a building climate where students feel safe to share concerns about where threats exist and then assess how serious those threats are.

“We have to balance between prevention and security,” said Zenere, who assisted in the planning and delivery of support services following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The Threat Assessment Team training is based on the Virginia Student Threat Assessment guidelines, which is an evidence-based model of school threat assessment that is being used by many schools.

Zenere said the public has a “skewed” idea about school safety, noting incidents of school violence have decreased over the past few decades. While school shootings get much attention, schools are about the safest place a child can be, he said.

For every school shooting there are 1,500 shootings outside school. There are an average of 21 school shooting fatalities per year while there are 36,000 shooting fatalities outside of schools. People are ten times more likely to be shot in a restaurant than a school but no one proposes arming cooks and waiters and putting metal detectors in restaurants, Zenere said.

Zenere also said zero tolerance policies in schools have produced more problems and said students shouldn’t be suspended for pointing their finger like a gun or bringing nail clippers to school. A Texas study showed that 60 percent of students from seventh through 12th grades had been suspended at least once. Suspension has negative consequences, Zenere said, such as students falling behind academically and continuing to misbehave.

On the issue of violence, most school shooters have experienced an emotional crisis, including suicidal thoughts, have expressed interest in previous school shootings and are often victims of bullying.

At pivotal times in their life, there were ample opportunities for prevention, he said. He noted that schools across Kansas and the nation need more school psychologists, counselors and social workers.

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