Title Dealing with Student Threats - Part 1 of 2
Author/s John L. Cooley, WootenHart PLC
Preview How to handle students threatening other students via email.

Dealing With Student Threats—Part I
John L. Cooley, Attorney

Q. We recently had a student send an email containing some threats against other students. How should we have handled this?

A. This question concerns an issue that a number of Christian schools have recently had to address. Sadly, threats of violence have now become a reality in today's educational environment, and schools must take them seriously. The first concern of the school must be to protect the students and staff, not just to minister to the offending student.

In determining how to respond, school leaders must ask several questions. First, they must determine whether or not the threat is credible. They will need to interview the offending student, and they will need to investigate the circumstances to determine whether the threat was specific; that is, directed toward certain individuals. They should also consider the severity of the threat. If they decide the threat is credible, the school must take decisive action. That might involve suspension or expulsion. Where appropriate, the school may suggest counseling. If the offending student's family is cooperative, and the counselor's opinion is supportive, the school may evaluate the possibility of reenrollment.

If the threat involves a statement that a weapon will be brought to school, or if a weapon actually is brought to school, the school should immediately suspend the student. At this stage, the credibility of the threat is not relevant. Once the investigation has been completed, the student should be expelled if warranted. Some jurisdictions require educational institutions to report incidents involving weapons to appropriate authorities. Regardless of any statutory requirements, the best response is to report such incidents.

Finally, if the threat is credible and specific, the school leaders should inform those threatened of the situation even if there is no evidence of a weapon having been brought onto school property. Those threatened could bring a cause of action against the school if they were not informed and problems occurred later.

Prepared by attorney John L. Cooley, WootenHart PLC, Roanoke, VA

The following websites have helpful information on this topic-Editor:

* Keep Schools Safe: A Collection of Resources to Help Make Schools Safer. This website is a project of the National Association of Attorneys General and the National School Boards Association. Sections include what students can do, how parents can get involved, and the role of law enforcement. Topics include drugs and alcohol, gangs, conflict, and weapons. Sample discipline codes can be downloaded as well as a list of state-by-state resources—

* Download a copy of "Early Warning, Timely Response—A Guide to Safe Schools." This 40-page report, prepared by the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice, contains sections on the characteristics of a school that is safe and responsive to all children, early warning signs, getting help for troubled children, developing a prevention and response plan, responding to a school crisis, and resources for school officials.—

Notice: These articles are designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. They have been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

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