Threat Assessment at School

Brief Facts and Tips

  1. Threat assessment is intended to prevent violence and involves both assessment and intervention. Threat assessment involves determining whether a student poses a threat of violence (they have intent and means to carry out the threat).
  2. A threat is an expression of intent to physically or sexually harm someone. This expression may be spoken, written, or gestured. Threats can be expressed directly or indirectly to the victim or to others, and threats may be explicit or implied. Threats sometimes, but rarely, actually involve guns or explosive devices.
  3. A threat to harm others can be transient (i.e., expression of anger or frustration that can be quickly or easily resolved) or substantive (i.e., serious intent to harm others that involves a detailed plan and means).
  4. All school districts should develop and implement threat assessment procedures that are clearly communicated to staff and families. It is an alternative to zero tolerance policies, which have been proven ineffective and counterproductive.
  5. A school threat assessment is conducted by a multidisciplinary team of trained professionals, including a school mental health professional, administrators, and school resource officer or local law enforcement.
  6. A threat assessment involves evaluation and classification of the threat (i.e., transient versus substantive) and appropriate response and intervention, including notification and involvement of parents and a written safety plan. It should include a suicide risk assessment as these students are often also suicidal.
  7. There is NO profile of a student who will cause harm. There is no easy formula or profile of risk factors that accurately determines whether a student is going to commit a violent act. The use of profiling increases the likelihood of misidentifying students who are thought to pose a threat.
  8. Most students who pose a substantive threat indicate their intentions in some way. Examples include statements to friends, ideas in written work, drawings, and postings on social media that threaten harm.
  9. It is important act quickly if you are concerned about a threat. Steps to take can include contacting the appropriate school administrator, the school crisis team leader, the school-employed mental health professional, or local law enforcement immediately. It is their job to determine next steps, including potentially contacting named intended victims.
  10. Threat assessment should be a component of a comprehensive approach maintaining a safe school, which offers a balance between physical and psychological safety.

References:

Cornell, D., & Sheras, P. (2005). Guidelines for responding to student threats of violence. SoprisWest.

© 2015, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814; 301-657-0270, Fax 301-657-0275; www.nasponline.org

Related Resources

BTAM Best Practice Considerations for K–12 Schools
NASP has updated our school behavior threat assessment and management (BTAM) resources to include additional guidance.

Protecting Students' Rights in BTAM
Inappropriate disciplinary action or referral to law enforcement can occur if BTAM is not used correctly or if BTAM procedures are not followed correctly. However, when BTAM best practices are used, the process helps prevent and reduce the overuse of restrictive placements and punitive measures for students with disabilities and students of color. 

Responding to Students Who Threaten Violence: Helping Handout for the School (PDF) 
This handout reviews considerations important to identifying a potentially threatening situation and selecting the appropriate intervention for the student who presents as a possible danger to others.


Behavior Threat Assessment and Management in the Virtual Environment
This page was designed to assist schools with behavior threat assessment and management (BTAM) decisions in a virtual environment, and it may be particularly useful as schools experience extended closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.