A teacher’s perspective: The value of threat assessment training and how it works - SmartBrief

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A teacher’s perspective: The value of threat assessment training and how it works

A threat assessment aimed at helping a student and preventing violence is not bogged down in the political divide like gun control. 

5 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

photo illustration of Backpack, school supplies and gun on desk for threat assessment article

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“Mom, we are in ALICE lockdown. They say someone is shooting.”

That text from my son shortly before 1 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2021, changed my life as a mom and as a teacher. A 15-year-old classmate of my son’s walked out of a bathroom and opened fire on the staff and students who were traveling to their next class. Four Oxford, Mich., students — Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, and Justin Shilling — were killed, and six other students and one teacher were wounded.  

How my school district supported change

In the weeks and months after the shooting, everyone tried to find a way to start the healing process. I work at Atherton Junior-Senior High School in nearby Burton, Mich. During that time, I was offered an opportunity to become a member of my recently created district threat assessment team with training in Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines. As a mom of a school shooting survivor and a teacher who always hoped my own school community would never experience such a tragedy, I did not hesitate to join. 

It was through this training and seeing the positive outcomes of the incidents we have assessed that I have concluded that all schools should have a properly trained threat assessment team.  Having an active threat assessment team in schools can help reduce the number of violent acts in schools. It is a solution that is not bogged down in the political divide like gun control or general student mental health supports. 

The need for proactive threat assessment practices

Currently, only nine states require public K-12 schools to have school threat assessment teams, and according to the National Association of State Boards of Education, only 18 states require districts to adopt threat assessment policies or procedures. 

Threat assessment policies can assist schools in identifying a student who may pose a threat and also provide mental health resources and support for a student who is found to be a threat to school and community safety. This identification can help students in crisis and put them on a more positive and stable path for their future.  In the past two years that I have been participating in my district’s threat assessment team, we have had more than one case where we discovered a substantive threat and were able to intervene before the act of violence was carried out.  

“I fully believe it is one of the most effective tools in reducing violence and creating safer schools.”

— Heather Becker-Hulswit, teacher and threat assessment committee member

How threat assessment teams provide support

The process of determining the level of threat is an extensive one. It is a deliberate and proactive process that involves a team approach. It cannot be used to unfairly target a student just in the hopes of removing them from the school community. For our district, the team includes general education and special education staff, school administrators, a school counselor, a social worker and our school resource officer. 

After interviews with multiple people who have knowledge of a student and situation, the team meets to discuss the information and determine the level of seriousness of the alleged threat. I have seen this process work multiple times. On one specific assessment, we discovered that the student was feeling an extreme level of disconnect from those around them. They had serious feelings of not fitting in, that they were not accepted and that no one cared nor understood them. The parents were completely unaware of how hard their child was struggling emotionally and that their mental health was in such a negative state. 

Working as a team, we established a plan to support the student academically while they focused on their mental health. Our school counselor and our school social worker were able to provide outside resources for the parents to find appropriate and effective mental health services for their child. 

With this proactive approach, we were able to ensure that our student body would continue to attend a safe and secure school environment. I think about Oxford — and how, if they had implemented their threat assessment procedure, how different Nov. 30, 2021, may have been. I try hard not to spend too much time thinking about it, but it is my driving force as a member of my district team and my desire to advocate for all K-12 districts to create threat assessment policies and procedures. 

The demand for safety in schools for children and educators

We all agree that our nation’s children deserve to go to schools where they can focus on their academics and build friendships. No one wants students to have to worry about whether or not they will go home that night. Educators deserve a safe work environment. We should be focused on designing and implementing challenging and interactive learning opportunities for our students, not wondering if we will have to give our lives to save those of the children in our care. 

While society continues to argue over gun reform and increasing funding for mental health in schools, school shootings continue to happen. We are overlooking the effectiveness of an established threat assessment program. The pain and anger that I have watched my community experience as a result of the shooting, and the hurt and fear I have seen my own son live with, is something I would never wish on any other community. 

Threat assessments may not stop every act of violence against a school, but I fully believe it is one of the most effective tools in reducing violence and creating safer schools. My son and his classmates deserved better. All children deserve better. Threat assessment policies can provide it for them. 


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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