Protocol helps identify student threats

Local educators trained to assess potential problems

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Student threat assessment

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Help for children and adults experiencing a mental health crisis

Clark County Crisis Services: 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide phone triage for crisis calls from children and adults. 360-696-9560 or 800-626-8137, Crisis Services.

Emergency rooms at either PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Drive, Vancouver, or Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, 2211 N.E. 139th St., Vancouver.

For emergencies requiring immediate response, dial 911.

Students acting violently or threatening violence at school are making headlines around the country. It’s happening in Clark County, too.

What occurs much more frequently, however, are instances of educators and community professionals identifying potential threats and getting help for kids before the situation escalates to the point of making the headlines.

When a student poses a potential threat to the school community or himself, educators follow a prescribed protocol to assess the student’s situation.

“Usually, a student will do something or say something that will get the attention of an administrator,” said Scott Deutsch, risk manager at Evergreen Public Schools.

School staff are trained to differentiate between a student venting frustration versus a student posing a threat, Deutsch said.

Most schools have teams of teachers, counselors, school psychologists and nurses trained to identify students who have academic and behavioral issues, to solve problems, and to access resources to help students and their families.

Assessing threats

If the staff determines a student is not just venting frustration but needs help, they gather a team of adults who know the student: teachers, administrators and the parents. The focus of this Level I screening is to determine whether the student poses a possible threat to the school or to himself.

About 200 Level I screenings are reported by Clark County schools during a school year, said Barb Laurenzo, student threat assessment coordinator at Educational Service District 112. About 60,000 students attend Clark County schools, she said.

If the team decides the student poses a potential threat, they put together a safety plan to help that student.

“Sometimes that plan is successful,” Deutsch said. “Sometimes additional problems show up and the team moves to a Level II assessment.”

Help for students

Level II is when Laurenzo and her community-based threat assessment team join the discussion. Trained in principles of threat assessment, each team member brings to the table a specific area of expertise: law enforcement, juvenile justice, mental health, family services and more. They help the school develop safety and support plans for the student based on specific resources available through their agencies.

They also consult with and train school staff about warning signs and risk factors shown to contribute to youth violence.

Laurenzo said she and her team complete about 85 Level II threat assessments during a school year.

After either the Level I screening or the Level II threat assessment, school staff work with parents to access support for students and their families.

“In most cases, it is only the parents who can actually ensure that they are trying to access help for their child,” Laurenzo said. “At times, it may seem as if accessing help is difficult. That’s why it’s so important that parents and schools work together to access resources within the school and community,” she said.

After a Level II threat assessment, parents often seek mental health services or a higher intensity of mental health services. In most cases, these services were available before the assessment, Laurenzo said, but for a variety of reasons, parents did not get help for their child.

Help for parents

Another common result of a Level II threat assessment is recommending the family seek support, available from sources including National Alliance on Mental Illness, Parent to Parent with The ARC, Parenting Project and Parent U through ESD 112, the YWCA and parent support groups at community mental health agencies.

Help for adult children

Parents who are concerned about their child harming others or himself can call Clark County Crisis Services for mental health consultation. This is a good resource for adult children who are age 18 or older.

Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last December, was 20 years old.

“Crisis services professionals are very knowledgeable about how to work within the law to assist parents of children over the age of 18,” Laurenzo said.