Threat assessment is a behavioral approach to violence prevention that focuses on targeted threats before they escalate into violent behavior. Threat assessment teams use a problem solving approach to evaluate the risk of violence posed by someone and intervene and resolve the issues that underlie the threatening behavior.
LCPS conducts threat assessments in accordance with the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines, an evidence-based model developed by Dr. Dewey Cornell and colleagues at the University of Virginia. These guidelines were initially published as Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence and have been widely adopted by schools in Virginia and other states. LCPS Policy 8290 outlines the requirements for conducting a threat assessment.
Yes. While LCPS has been implementing threat assessment since 2004, Virginia legislation (§ 22.1-79.4) was passed in 2013 requiring that “Each local school board shall adopt policies for the establishment of threat assessment teams, including the assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students consistent with the model policies developed by the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety…Each division superintendent shall establish, for each school, a threat assessment team that shall include persons with expertise in counseling, instruction, school administration, and law enforcement.”
The school threat assessment team includes a School Administrator; School Counselor, School Psychologist, and School Social Worker; and School Security Officer and School Resource Officer, where assigned, each with different roles for supporting the threat assessment process.
The threat assessment model follows three basic steps: reporting and identifying threats, assessing and classifying threats, and responding and managing threats. In the first step, students, staff, or other individuals who identify a threat are to report this behavior to a school administrator, such as the principal or assistant principal. When a threat is reported, the school administrator should immediately initiate a threat assessment that includes reviewing the threatening behavior or communication; reviewing educational and other records; and interviewing the individual who made the threat, the recipients of the threat, and other witnesses who have knowledge of the threat. The purpose of this interview is to assess the threat in context, so the meaning of the threat and whether the individual intends to carry out the threat is understood.
The threat assessment team works to determine if the threat is easily and readily resolved, otherwise known as a "transient" threat. Examples of transient threats are jokes, figures of speech, temporary feelings of anger at the time of the threat, or rehetorical remarks that do represent genuine or continued intent to harm someone. Any threat that cannot be clearly resolved as "transient" or indicates a contuining intent to harm someone beyond the immediate incident is treated as a "substantive" threat. Substantive threats always require protective action and intervention to prevent the threat from being carried out. When the school threat assessment team determines that a student has made a "very serious substantive" threat, the team additionally requires a temporary detention order evaluation with Loudoun County Emergency Services and a follow-up mental health evaluation. The team will consider recommendations from the mental health evaluation to reduce the risk of violence and to address the problem or conflict underlying the threat. For both transient and substantive threats, there is an emphasis on helping individuals and resolving the underlying issues.
Threat Assessment Online Educational Program
New online educational programs on school safety are available to help students and parents understand the threat assessment process for preventing violence.
The programs were successfully field-tested in 2016-2017. All groups demonstrated large gains in knowledge of threat assessment and improved willingness to report threats to school officials after completing the programs.
We encourage all students ages 12 and up and parents to complete these programs. We also encourage parents to be available to discuss any questions your child may have after viewing the program. Please address any questions about LCPS threat assessment policy and threat reporting to your child’s school administrator.
This 15-minute program is a way to learn about the threat assessment process used in your school and how it can prevent violence. You will be asked to identify your school, but not yourself, when completing the online program. By the end of the program, parents/students will know/understand:
- School safety is complex but severe violence in schools is rare and can be prevented
- Threat assessment is a problem-solving approach for investigating threatening statements or behavior with the purpose of determining how serious a threat is, preventing violence, and resolving the situation
- Threat assessment teams include individuals with expertise in admin, counseling, instruction ,and law enforcement
- How teams investigate threats of violence
- Some threats are violation of state or federal law
- How to report a threat to school officials
- Discipline within a TA approach is based on threat seriousness
- There is research-based evidence to support TA as a safe and effective practice that improves student behavior, reduces bullying and reduces suspensions
- How to talk to their child about the difference between snitching and seeking help
The online educational programs can be accessed through the website: www.schoolthreatassessment.com. The LCPS access code to view the educational program is:
- Parent code: pmfkqz
- Student code: sbthn9
These programs help schools meet the requirement for threat assessment teams to “provide guidance to students, faculty and staff regarding recognition of threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a threat to the community, or school…” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-79.4)
This project is being conducted by the Youth Violence Project of the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Virginia Department of Education. It is supported by Grant #NIJ 2014-CK-BX-0004 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Dr. Dewey Cornell is the project’s principal investigator and Dr. Jennifer Maeng is the project director and can be contacted with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety
The VCSCS has released an instructional video for school staff, parents, and community members: K12 Threat Assessment in Virginia Schools