- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Secret Service on Thursday urged schools to create “threat assessment” teams to flag students who show signs of possible violence.

The Service, in a set of recommendations to school districts nationwide, said the teams should use educators and armed school resource officers to get a broad picture of students’ behavior, including reviewing online activities, class assignments and even going through lockers or desks.

“We take a holistic approach when we’re examining these students,” said Lina Alathari, chief of the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), which produced the report. “So if you’re doing an assessment on a student, you want to look at everything going on in their life.”

The recommendations were the latest effort by the Trump administration to respond to February’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died.

The FBI has acknowledged that the bureau failed to follow up on multiple tips that Nikolas Cruz, the man accused of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, had a gun and wanted to hurt people.

There also have been questions about whether local school officials could have done more to flag Mr. Cruz as potentially dangerous after he had racked up dozens of disciplinary infractions.

Mr. Cruz faces 34 counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder.

Ms. Alathari said officials should pay close attention to students who indicate they could harm themselves or others, and who also have access to weapons.

“If there are weapons at home, the team should determine if they are stored appropriately and if the student knows how to use them or has done so in the past,” she and the other authors wrote in the report.

But the report also said that firearms are not the only weapons to be concerned about, noting that explosives and knives also have been used in attacks.

The report said the threshold for intervention should be “relatively low” so that teams can identify distressed students before it’s too late.

An earlier NTAC report that examined attacks on schools found that not every student directly threatened their targets prior to attack, but in 81 percent of incidents another person was at least aware of what the student was thinking or planning.

President Trump, who set up a school safety commission after the Feb. 14 shooting, has emphasized increasing the number of armed officers in schools as a remedy for the recent spate of shootings.

An armed officer who was on hand at Stoneman Douglas notably did not enter the building, though an officer at Great Mills High School in Maryland did quickly engage a shooter in March and has been credited with helping avert a potentially more dire outcome. One student died in connection to the attack and the shooter took his own life.

Ms. Alathari said on “CBS This Morning” that many schools started implementing their own threat assessment programs after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

“Just from talking to schools across the country, people have different practices,” she said. “I think what this guide will do is really promote where you can have best practices — where you can have a mechanism in place so that these signs are not missed.”

Forty-two percent of all public schools reported having a threat assessment team during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A sweeping law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in March in response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting requires every school in the state to have such a team with expertise in mental health counseling, teaching, law enforcement, and administration. The teams are supposed to meet monthly to review potential threats to students and staff.

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