Managing Threats Part 3: Preventing Violence and Creating Safe Schools

Part 3: School Staff- What to Do to Respond to Threats

School staff work hard to make sure that students feel safe at school. But unfortunately, while deaths occurring in schools are rare, school violence is on the increase.
PBSEverythingElem9Threats are a good indication that future violence may occur. Any staff member who is the first person to encounter a threat needs to respond to the threat. This includes all certified, classified and administrative staff, actually any adult who works in the school building or in transportation. Be sure that all staff is trained to respond to threats.

There are two typical ways that you may encounter threats: (a) you witness a threat directly, and (b) students report a threat. We’ll look at the steps to responding to both of these.

How to Respond to Directly Witnessed Threats

In this situation, you hear or observe a threat being made. Here are the four steps to respond to directly witnessed threats:

Step 1: Assess for imminent danger

Step 2: Defuse the situation

Step 3: Make an office referral

Step 4: Write a report

 Step 1: Assess for Imminent Danger

ManagingThreats3Make an immediate determination if the threat is likely to be carried out or if the incident may escalate to violent behavior. Indicators of imminent danger include:

  • If the offender or victim is brandishing an object or weapon
  • Physical excesses such as pushing, shoving, finger pointing or squaring off
  • Agitated behavior such as shouting, waving arms, strong facial expressions or strong language
  • Other students milling around and becoming involved

If any of these indicators of imminent danger are present, immediately follow your school emergency procedures or get help from another staff person if you can.

Step 2: Defuse the Situation

If the situation doesn’t call for emergency procedures, the next step is to defuse the situation: break up the problem so that it doesn’t escalate. Defusing strategies include:

  • Giving directions to separate the students
  • Dispersing other students if present
  • Speaking to each student privately, calmly, firmly and respectfully
  • Inform students that procedures such as an office referral and report will be made
Step 3: Make an Office Referral

Even if the situation has been defused, all threats should be reported to the office because all threats should be taken seriously. Follow the normal procedures for making an office referral.

Step 4: Write a Report

Write a report to provide the administrative staff with enough documentation to follow up on the threat. Information that is typically recorded about the threat is:

  • Time and location
  • Names of person making threat, victim and witnesses, if possible
  • Description of the threat (words, gestures, body language)
  • Level of cooperation by offender
  • Support action taken for victim

How to Respond to Threats Reported by Students

Respect 2Students know more than staff about the social dynamics going on in the school. They may report threats to you like rumors, overheard threats, or threats made online. Remember to take all threats seriously. A student may have made an empty threat to begin with but could feel pressure to follow through with it in order to save face if other students know about it. Here are three steps to respond to threats reported by students:

Step 1: Interview the student reporting the threat

Step 2: Make an office referral

Step 3: Write a report

Step 1: Interview the student reporting the threat

Quickly assess the situation based on the information received from the student. If the threat implies immediate danger, follow school emergency procedures. Otherwise, take time to interview the student, contact the office, and write a report. Interview the student using the following steps:

  • Acknowledge the student for reporting the threat
  • Assure the student that confidentiality will be honored and that their name will be kept quiet
  • Determine whether the information on the threat was obtained first or second hand
  • Identify time and place
  • Obtain the names of person making the threat, the victim and any other witnesses
  • Determine exactly what was said or done
  • Determine what behaviors accompanied the threat (physical excesses, language excesses, milling around of other students)
  • If the threat was made online, ask if there’s any way to show you (email, instant message, social networking site) and document it if you can
  • Tell the student that the information will be passed on to the office and that someone may wish to talk with them to follow up on the information
Step 2: Make an Office Contact

collaborating2Notify the office that a threat has been made and arrange a meeting with an administrator.

Step 3: Write a Report

Write a report to provide the administrative staff adequate documentation to follow up on the threat. The report typically includes:

  • Time and location
  • Names of person making threat, victim and witnesses, if possible
  • Description of the threat (words, gestures, body language, online threat)
  • Level of cooperation by offender
  • Support action taken for victim
  • Follow up with person who reported the threat to ensure there were no repercussions

Administrative staff will then use your school’s safety plan to assess the risk and develop a behavior support plan for the student who made the threat.

Be sure to check out the other articles in this series: Managing Threats: Preventing Violence and Creating Safe Schools
Part 1 – A Schoolwide Action Plan
Part 2 – Setting up Protocols

2 thoughts on “Managing Threats Part 3: Preventing Violence and Creating Safe Schools”

  1. Dr. Geoff Colvin- Thank you for this great article. I am very interested in touching base with you on your expertise if you have a moment to talk to me. I am in charge of developing a behavior team in my district and was using your book as the basis for a training. I wanted to check in with you regarding the use of your book (to make sure I am not outside of what would be appropriate). Thank you again for this article and all of the great guidance you have provided in your books. – Dr. Laura Mueller

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