Act 18 of 2019 (”Act 18”), was introduced to establish the Keystone Telepresence Education Grant program and was amended to include numerous changes to Act 44 of 2018 as well as set new provisions regarding school safety and security. Provisions of Act 18 required each school entity to establish threat assessment teams as well as threat assessment team membership qualifications, training, and reporting requirements. Additionally, relative to trauma informed education, Act 18 established requirements for school entities to recognize the signs and impact of trauma in students and provide support.
Through its training on threat assessment, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (“PCCD”) has been firm in maintaining that many of the procedures and guidelines outlined during threat assessment training are not prescriptive. That is to say, PCCD’s position is that school boards have the authority to establish any policies or procedures relative to threat assessment that are consistent with applicable laws and regulations. So, the question arises, “What do school entities absolutely need in relation to applicable laws and regulations on threat assessment in their threat assessment (236.1) policies?” Under Act 18, “…each school entity shall establish at least one team…for the assessment of an intervention with students whose behavior may indicate a threat to the safety of the student, other students, school employees, school facilities, the community or others.” Act 18 also states that school entities are, “…responsible for assessing and responding to reports of students exhibiting self-harm or suicide risk factors or warning signs as provided for under section 1526 (of the PA School Code, 24 P.S. Sec. 15-1526).”
Additionally, the Pennsylvania School Code outlines some mandated responsibilities of a school entity’s prescribed threat assessment team. The school entity must:
- Assess and intervene with individuals who may pose a threat to self or others;
- Ensure school employees know who the team members are and to whom to report threatening or at-risk behavior, including through Safe2Say;
- Report quantitative data to the Chief School Administrator or designee on the team’s activity;
- Provide advice, guidance, and awareness-raising materials and training to the whole school community on recognizing threatening or aberrant behavior, and how to report it;
- Notify the Chief School Administrator or a designee, the student’s building principal, and the school safety and security coordinator upon receiving a preliminary determination that a student may pose a threat of violence or physical harm to self or others,; and
- Attempt to notify the student’s caregiver, unless abuse or neglect are suspected, in which case Child Protective Services would be notified, and not the student’s caregiver.
It is not the intention of Act 18 to create a duplication of effort with a school entity’s already existing threat/suicide awareness and prevention policies and procedures, but for the threat assessment team to interact and cooperate with other teams and in other implicated policies.
Thus, a Board policy should – at the very least – contain the above content. The school entity and Board should ensure that there is in place either a policy (recommended) or procedure (permissible) that establishes AT LEAST one threat assessment team which will monitor and abide by the above outlined provisions in order to detect acts of targeted violence toward others.
Attorney Baublitz recently completed PCCD’s eight-hour training program on “K-12 Threat Assessment in Pennsylvania.” As always, Attorney Baublitz, along with the rest of the School Law Practice Group at Stock and Leader, is ready to discuss concerns, answer questions, and provide counsel on any of your school district’s issues relating to threat assessment and policy implications.