A child crosses under caution tape after the mass shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas – Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
In the wake of a national epidemic of school shootings, Gov. Cooper gave final approval today to House Bill 605 — a measure that will require “threat assessment teams” in public school units. School districts and charter schools will have to implement the program starting in the 2024-2025 school year.
The law will also require all public schools (and encourage private schools) to participate in school safety exercises and programs. Local school boards of education would have to install peer-to-peer support programs.
Representative John A. Torbett, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, provided an example of when a threat assessment team should reach out to a student during a committee meeting in June.
“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, notice 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.”
The threat assessment team would include people with expertise in counseling, instruction, administration, and law enforcement.
They would conduct threat assessments in a school when an individual behaves in a way that may put students, staff, or faculty in danger. The behavior can be expressed orally, visually, electronically, in writing, or in any other way that it can be considered threatening whether a verbal threat was expressed.
In addition to acts of violence (such as school shootings), threat assessments can also target children at risk of suicide. According to a report prepared by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, almost 1 in 10 of Black North Carolina high school students reported that they attempted suicide in the past year.
The report also noted the need for improved responses to school discipline issues as a means of improving school environments. While school-based referral rates for disciplinary issues declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportion of Black students being reprimanded remains high, and the number of school psychologists in North Carolina is still well-below recommended levels.
On-site, fully staffed mental health spaces in schools, culturally competent mental health professionals, and out of school psychiatric care are also recommended in the report as solutions.
Karen W. Fairley, executive director of Center for Safer Schools, said that she and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt have pressed for a threat assessment team law since 2021.
“It’s not punitive – it allows us to identify children who might be a danger to themselves or others and gives them the assistance and resources that they deserve,” Fairley said.
CFSS already hosts quarterly, online School Behavioral Threat Assessment nd Management Training quarterly in partnership with the BeTA Unit of the State Bureau of Investigation.
“Nothing is better than having fully formed threat assessment teams in our schools,” Truitt said. “A fully functioning threat assessment team is a critical component of keeping schools safer and preventing violence.”
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