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School “threat assessment teams” required under bill headed to Cooper | #schoolsaftey

North Carolina House lawmakers passed a measure Tuesday by a vote of 115 to 4 that would require public schools to have “threat assessment teams,” safety exercises, and student support programs. Four Democrats voted against the measure.

House bill 605, or the School Threat Assessment Teams bill, got House concurrence after the N.C. Senate passed it unanimously last week.

The N.C. Task Force For Safer Schools reports that, so far in the 2022-23 school year, 1,145 criminal complaints against students had been filed by police, an increase over previous years.

Similar approaches to the one this bill attempts to implement were mentioned in a report by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) last November. In that Report, NCDHHS recommended prevention and support services for populations with higher risk of firearm injuries.

Currently, there are no laws requiring public school units to establish threat assessment teams. Charter, regional, and laboratory schools are encouraged to have one, but not strictly required. 

Under the measure, private schools would be encouraged, not required, to develop a School Risk Management Plan, provide campus schematics to local authorities, and participate in school safety exercises alongside public schools. 

Threat assessment according to the bill’s definition refers to the “fact-based process of identifying, assessing, and managing behavior that may pose a risk of violence or other harm to self or others” at a school. As a result, threat assessment teams refer to the group of experts on “counseling, instruction, school administration, and law enforcement” that conduct the assessments of what threatening behavior warrants further investigation.”

Threatening behavior would be defined as “any communication or action that indicates that an individual may pose a danger to the safety or well-being of school staff or students through acts of violence or other behaviors that would cause harm to self or other.”

In individual schools, threat assessment teams would be composed of “at least one school psychologist, one staff member knowledgeable about and experienced in working with students with special needs, and one staff member knowledgeable about and experienced in working with students with disabilities.”

Rep. John A. Torbett gave an example of how this bill would work during discussion of the bill in the Rules and Operations Committee discussion last week. 

“Little Johnny is an A/B student, then all of a sudden the teacher notices that little Johnny becomes a C/D student, even fluctuating towards an F student. Chances are that something’s going on with little Johnny, but that teacher doesn’t say anything. Then the baseball coaches, that little Johnny plays with, notices that he’s not coming to practice, [and] he’s not playing up to his potential. He knows that something’s going on with little Johnny,” Rep. Torbett stated. 

“If these people don’t talk about what’s going on little Johnny, then little Johnny continues to go down the way he’s going,” Sen. Torbett continued saying. Once implemented, the bill will “reduce the chances of a student from wishing to harm himself and/or others, which is the goal of our school safety,” Sen. Torbett ended with. 

Sen. Torbett told CJ after the committee discussion that “The aim of this bill is to reduce young people from wanting to cause themselves or others harm by working with them to fix issues and concerns they may be encountering.”

Types of guidance

According to the bill’s language, guidance for these threat assessment teams would be established by the Center for Safer Schools, the Task Force for Safer Schools, Disability Rights North Carolina, the North Carolina School Psychology Association, the State Bureau of Investigation, and any other relevant State agencies. 

This guidance would come in the form of best practices for the assessment and intervention of individuals who pose risks to the safety of students, staff, and themselves. The guidance would also include a procedure for referrals to local management entities (LME) or managed care organizations (MCO) when appropriate and compliance with federal law and State statutes regarding student privacy and students with disabilities. If the individual is not a student, the guidance must provide for referral to the appropriate local law enforcement agency.

In the end, however, it will ultimately be up to the governing body of the public school to develop their own policies for assessment and intervention with guidance from the recommendations by the Center for Safer Schools. It will then be the duty of the superintendent of the public school unit to establish or assign threat assessment teams for each school in the area they manage. It will be up to their discretion whether or not to have a school assessment team should serve more than one school.

Peer-to-peer support programs

The third section of the bill outlines the establishment of peer-to-peer support programs. These programs will be established for any students in sixth grade and above.

These programs will be designed to “address areas such as conflict resolution, general health and wellness, and mentoring.” The Center for Safer Schools will support the counselors in public schools to deliver these programs to students. 

School Safety exercises and school crisis kits 

The fourth section of the bill states that public schools must participate in at least a full school-wide tabletop exercise and drill based on the procedures documented in the school risk management plan. 

Additionally, the Department of Public Instruction and the Center for Safer Schools, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety, would create policies on the placement of school crisis kits in schools. 

These kits would be composed of basic first-aid supplies and communication supplies. 

The School Threat Assessment Teams bill was ordered enrolled by the House and will be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper.

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