Threat Assessment at School
Brief Facts and Tips
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 proven ineffective and counterproductive.
- A school threat assessment is conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of trained professionals, including a school mental health professional, administrators and school resource officer or local law enforcement.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and/or local law enforcement immediately. It is their job to determine next steps, including potentially contacting named intended victim(s).
- Threat assessment should be a component of a comprehensive approach maintaining a safe school, which offers a balance between physical and psychological safety.
Cornell, D., & Sheras, P. (2005). Guidelines for responding to student threats of violence. Longmont, CO: 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
Responding to Students who Threaten Violence: Helping Handout for the School
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.
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 due to the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.