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Title Dealing with Student Threats - Part 2 of 2
Author/s John L. Cooley, WootenHart PLC
Preview How to involve the parents of a student making threats of violence
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Dealing With Student Threats—Part II
Attorney John L. Cooley


Q: In a situation involving a student making threats of violence, how should the school approach the student's parents to best deal with the situation?
 

A: The last Legal Legislative Update Q & A dealt with threats of violence by students but did not address dealing with parents. This question is very timely. Over the last several weeks, our office has received approximately 15 calls from administrators expressing concerns involving student violence. Frequently, parents cannot face the severity of the circumstances, or they attempt to blame the school for the actions taken.

The best approach begins by developing a policy addressing threats of violence. The Student Handbook should advise parents of the policy. The handbook should contain a statement regarding weapons. The policy should also define when a threat is specific and credible, and what actions the school will take. The school's policy should also state what the school will do regarding the student's continued enrollment if a threat is made that is not credible. Parents must realize that the school views its primary responsibility as protecting the safety of all the students. This means that the school will immediately investigate, determine whether the threat is credible, and take all appropriate actions. The policy below attempts to address many of these factors. The school should adapt this suggested policy to fit its circumstances, including consulting local legal counsel as necessary.

ABC Christian School has a no tolerance policy involving threats or perceived threats of violence by students. Parents should understand that the school's first responsibility is the protection of all of its students. The school takes this responsibility very seriously. Therefore, if a student brings a weapon to school, or to a school function, or has a weapon on his/her person, the school will immediately expel the student. Parents are advised that the school will contact local police or appropriate authorities, and will note in the student's permanent record that he/she was expelled for possession of a weapon on school premises or at a school function. Possession includes, but is not necessarily limited to, having a weapon in a locker, bookbag, purse, or vehicle. (The school may desire to define what constitutes a weapon.)

If the school determines that a threat of violence is credible and specific (directed toward particular students or staff), the administration will report the threat to the student and/or staff member threatened. The school will also report the threat to appropriate authorities. Students making such threats will be expelled. For purposes of this policy, credible means a reasonable belief or suspicion, determined at the sole discretion of school administration, that the threat was or might be genuine, or that the student was or might be capable of carrying out the threat. The student's permanent record will reflect the expulsion for making a threat of violence.

In those circumstances in which the school determines that the threat is likely not credible, the school will suspend the student pending a parent meeting. These include all cases in which the student was "just joking." If circumstances warrant, the school may conduct further investigation. The school will require students in this circumstance to obtain counseling, at family expense, from a Christian counselor or other professional agreeable to the school. No student will be permitted to continue enrollment in the school until the counselor advises the school that the student, in the counselor's opinion, does not present a threat of danger.

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

* Download a 36-page copy of "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective" from the FBI website. This new guide helps schools assess threats of violence by students. While the report contains a list of predetermined characteristics, it repeatedly warns educators not to try to "profile" students. It does urge school officials to be alert, however, to students who are "preoccupied with themes of violence, familiar with weapons, and ostracized by their peers." The web address is: www.fbi.gov, and the report is listed under "Headlines" in a box at the right.

* The US Secret Service has had in-depth interviews with ten students that shot and killed other students and adults. Agents studied 37 incidents involving 41 attacks that have occurred since 1974. While containing some "profile" information, the report suggests that inquiry should focus on students' behaviors and communications to determine whether they appear to be planning an attack. Student talk may be the best way to predict shooters.  The report is available free by calling 202.406.5470 and online at www.treas.gov/usss/ntac.

* Additional websites were listed in Part I of John Cooley's report. To read the first report or check on the websites it listed, go to www.acsi.org and click on "Legal/Legislative Services" at the bottom of the opening page. Find "Reference Articles" on a bar at the top of the next opening page and click on it to find the article.

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

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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