The role of behavioural threat assessment teams in US schools
People attend a memorial service at Pine Trails Park for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida. Source: Joe Raedle/AFP

February 2, 2019, during a daily route to the Minneapolis School District, a school bus driver was shot while behind the wheel and wounded. An elementary school student was sitting in the back of the bus at the time of the shooting.

April 1, 2019 was like any other day at Prescott High School, until a student was shot and injured by a fellow student who brought a concealed handgun onto campus, in what appeared to be a premeditated attack.

May 17, 2019, spring football season for Terry Parker High School. While attending the game, a teenage student was shot and taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Tracked on the annual Education Week School Shooting Tracker, all these US schools and more have been haunted by the threat of gun violence, despite their attempts to maintain a safe and peaceful campus environment.

Traumatised by the events of 2018, many schools in the US still face student safety concerns, as last year was labelled the ‘worst for school shootings’. Three words – students, guns and victims – have plagued headlines ever since.

Parkland, vigil

Heather Mesch and her daughter Alexa hold roses before placing them next to crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the Parkland mass shooting on Feb 21, 2018. Source: Reuters

Bringing in the support of threat assessment teams

To reassure students, educators, parents and communities, schools in the US have introduced behavioural threat assessment teams.

Moved and startled by the threat of gun violence, the Montgomery County Board of Education, which oversees Maryland’s largest school system, is one of the most recent educators to approve a plan to create behavioural threat assessment teams at each of their schools.

When informing Washington radio station, WTOP-FM, of their latest strategy, the Board said: “Each behavioural threat assessment team will include a mental health professional and a school resource officer. Each team will be responsible for appraising student, teacher and staff behaviour to identify anyone who might pose a threat to the safety of the school or an individual at the school.”

A great idea on paper, it allows schools to identify possible threats and prevent trouble before it reaches the crisis stage. But how will it work in reality?

Being watched by threat assessment teams might feel threatening. Depending on the formality of their uniforms and their campus presence, these teams could release tension by syncing with the daily school ambience rather than standing out from the crowd and making educators, students and parents feel nervous about being analysed.

Students from Western High School holding banners with info of past mass shootings take part in a protest in support of the gun control. Source: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

So far this year, there have been 14 school shootings with injuries or deaths and 23 people killed or injured in a school shooting.

No one knows if this number is set to increase or to remain stagnant as the year goes on, but why wait around for potential changes when lives are at stake?

If schools can build a barrier against the threats with strategic assessment teams, the US could out an end to these devastating statistics.

There’s no doubting the effectiveness of metal detectors and security cameras, but if there’s a team on campus, deliberately observing potential threats, progress will be made and school communities will start to feel much safer.

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