Having a threat assessment team has long been a suggested practice for K-12 schools. However, K-12 safety managers are often overtasked and under resourced, making it a challenge to start new safety programs. Because of this, many schools have not implemented a threat assessment team.
A threat assessment is a structured process of a team identifying, assessing and managing threatening or potentially threatening behaviors and situations. These may be called threat assessment teams (TATs), behavior intervention teams (BITs), CARE teams or other terms.
Now that the new Title IX rules have been released, threat assessment teams are not just an effective tool, they are a must-have. Here are six reasons why.
1. Emergency Removal Provision
The new Title IX rules state that schools cannot impose disciplinary sanctions on a student who has been accused of sexual harassment unless the student goes through a compliant grievance process first. Removing an accused student from a school’s education program or activity (e.g., imposing an interim suspension) before the grievance process concludes is considered disciplinary and violates a student’s rights under Title IX. (This provision only applies to students. Employees who have been accused of Title IX sexual harassment may be put on administrative leave per the normal procedures of the employer.) There is one exception to this rule, known as the emergency removal provision, which has two required components:
- An individualized risk and safety analysis (threat assessment) is conducted; and
- That analysis determines there is an imminent threat to the physical health or safety of a person arising from the Title IX sexual harassment allegations.
Schools cannot place students accused of Title IX sexual harassment on interim suspension (or remove them from their sports team or any other aspect of a school’s education program or activity) pending an investigation unless a student has been assessed and found to be a threat. In other words, what the new Title IX rules are saying is that after concerning behaviors are identified, an assessment leading to a threat determination results in a threat management option. Management options (like interim suspension) cannot take place without an assessment in these cases. Threat identification, assessment and management have always been principles of the threat assessment process, and these principles are now baked into the Title IX cake.
While having a threat assessment team isn’t mandated, following the new Title IX rules is. Since the new rules now require the key principles of threat assessment, forming and training a team are wise moves. A trained team places the school on better footing — both for safety and compliance — when making management decisions for Title IX allegations. It will also help when decisions are challenged.
It should be noted that most cases will not reach the high bar of an imminent threat justifying an emergency removal, which will require threat management skills for cases that play out with all parties remaining on campus.
2. Emergency Removal Challenges
If a school utilizes the emergency removal provision and removes an accused student from its education program or activity, the school must provide notice and the opportunity to challenge the decision immediately following the removal. When a removed student challenges the removal decision, having a threat assessment team will benefit a school on many fronts.
First, what group of individuals is better to decide on reinstating a person – who, I might add, was determined to represent an imminent threat to someone’s physical health or safety – to the campus community than a team that is trained to assess threats?
Second, if reinstatement does occur, there will almost certainly be a tense environment created on campus for the parties involved. As anyone who has worked these kinds of cases knows, Title IX grievance proceedings can be slow, exhausting and emotional. Accordingly, when the parties are on campus together, schools will want to involve a threat assessment team to manage threatening conduct that may occur as the Title IX grievance process plays out.
Finally, even if the initial reinstatement challenge doesn’t prevail, having a threat assessment team who has been involved in a case from the beginning will prove beneficial for any subsequent challenges to a removal decision down the road.
3. Supportive Measures
The new Title IX rules state that there are certain minimum steps the school must take when Title IX sexual harassment is alleged. These include, among other things, offering supportive measures to the alleged victim. Supportive measures can take a variety of forms and may include things like providing campus security escorts, altering school schedules and parking assignments, issuing mutual restrictions on contact and providing referrals to supportive services. As stated in the new rules, one of the primary goals of offering supportive measures is to protect the safety of alleged victims.
This aligns perfectly with the threat assessment process, as designing strategies to protect victims is a crucial component of threat management. Involving a threat assessment team in the supportive measures process should result in the application of more tailored and effective supportive measures and case management strategies. In addition, involving a multi-disciplinary threat assessment team will expand the available resources and supportive measures that can be offered.
4. When the Alleged Victim Doesn’t Want to Participate
To initiate a formal investigation into alleged Title IX sexual harassment, an alleged victim (or, for K-12, their parent/guardian) must file a formal complaint. If the victim and their parent/guardian choose not to file a formal complaint, there may be occasions when the Title IX coordinator will need to initiate an investigation and proceed without their participation.
This is because, according to the new rules, even when alleged victims don’t want to participate in the grievance process, schools cannot respond to reports of Title IX sexual harassment in a manner that is “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” What circumstances might cause a Title IX coordinator to move forward with an investigation against the wishes of an alleged victim and their parent/guardian?
These situations include instances where there is a threat of future harm. This could include reports of a pattern of misconduct; predatory conduct; threats; use of violence, weapons or date rape drugs; abuse of minors; misconduct by people in authority, etc.
Having the expertise of a threat assessment team to assess and manage potentially threatening situations will be of value in determining when circumstances may compel a school to invoke their Title IX processes, even when doing so goes against the wishes of the victim and their parent/guardian.
The new Title IX rules require greater involvement of parents of K-12 students in the grievance process.
Any teacher knows there are two main issues that cause parents to escalate: (1) grades, and (2) accusations of wrongdoing against their child. If the subject of grades has the potential to raise the temperature with parents, how much more does the subject of sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking – whether parents are told their children may be victims of these offenses, or are accused of committing them?
Allegations like these and how they are handled create the potential for angry confrontation with students and staff alike. Having a trained and well-rounded threat assessment team will allow schools to assess and manage insider and outsider threats directed towards anyone in the campus community.
6. Most Title IX Sexual Harassment Cases Are Threat Assessment Cases Anyway
Sexual violence, intimate partner violence and stalking are pernicious behaviors and should be viewed through a threat assessment lens in addition to a policy/civil rights lens. Research in the field of threat assessment, specifically into what has been called the “intimacy effect,” shows that threats within the intimate partner context should escalate concern.
Similarly, stalking behaviors have been associated with nearly every act of targeted violence, and these behaviors are key data points in the threat assessment process. That’s not to say that all threats and stalking behaviors will lead to acts of violence, but they should by default be assessed and managed by a trained threat assessment team.
Your School’s Next Steps
What initial steps should schools take to stand up a threat assessment team on their campus? Here are some recommendations.
- Assemble a multidisciplinary team. Don’t hoist threat assessment duties onto the shoulders of one person. These are life-altering decisions where the input, expertise and resources from multiple people and disciplines should be brought to bear. The constitution of each team will differ depending on the context of each school, but consider appointing people from the following areas as standing members of the team: administration, legal, law enforcement (local or SRO), security, mental health, human resources, dean of students, social media experts and, of course, Title IX. In addition to standing team members, consider utilizing ad hoc team members depending on the context of each situation. For example, tapping a special education professional as an ad hoc team member would be beneficial for cases involving a special education student. In case this article didn’t make it clear, threat assessment will be a valuable and sometimes necessary component of the Title IX process.
- Train the team. In order for a threat assessment team to operate effectively, they’ll need to be trained on the principles and key concepts of threat assessment. There are several ways this can be accomplished, and not all of them require spending money. For example, have the team read Making Prevention A Reality: Identifying, Assessing and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks. This publication, put out by the FBI, is an excellent and free resource for learning the principles of threat assessment. In addition, some states or other governmental entities offer free threat assessment team training. I would also encourage membership in the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP); this is a great resource for the threat assessment community, and ATAP offers ongoing training and certification.
- Resource and deploy the team. Threat assessment teams should meet regularly for case management purposes, to build trust with one another and to keep their skills sharp. It is not recommended that teams only convene when a threat assessment needs to be conducted. Even if there are no active cases to work through, getting together regularly to tabletop hypothetical situations is a valuable exercise; pick a headline from Campus Safety Magazine or some other news source and talk through how your team would handle the situation.
The benefit of having a threat assessment team has long been a best practice goal. Since the new Title IX rules on sexual harassment have been released and tie in principles of threat assessment, now is the time to convene, train and empower a threat assessment team on your campus. It will benefit your campus community from both a safety and compliance standpoint.
Elliot Cox is a school safety analyst for the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security. He can be reached at [email protected].
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