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Office of School Safety's Interim Threat Assessment Guidance

Dear School Administrators,

The Michigan State Police Office of School Safety, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, and Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators have been collaborating to provide guidance to schools across Michigan regarding behavioral threat assessments. We realize the importance of getting information out as soon as possible so, while this is in development, we are encouraging Michigan stakeholders to review existing school safety centers' information for interim guidance.

The Texas School Safety Center and the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety have exemplary threat assessment models available on their websites. Both centers have been contacted and welcome Michigan schools to utilize their resources.

The National Association of School Psychologists produced the following brief regarding threat assessments at school. Please note that where applicable, local community mental health may also have a role in multidisciplinary threat assessment teams.

  1. Threat assessment is intended to prevent violence and involves both assessment and intervention. Threat assessment involves determining whether a student poses a threat of violence (they have intent and means to carry out the threat).
  2. A threat is an expression of intent to physically or sexually harm someone. This expression may be spoken, written, or gestured. Threats can be expressed directly or indirectly to the victim or to others, and threats may be explicit or implied. Threats sometimes, but rarely, actually involve guns or explosive devices.
  3. A threat to harm others can be transient (i.e., expression of anger or frustration that can be quickly or easily resolved) or substantive (i.e., serious intent to harm others that involves a detailed plan and means).
  4. All school districts should develop and implement threat assessment procedures that are clearly communicated to staff and families. It is an alternative to zero tolerance policies, which have proven ineffective and counterproductive.
  5. A school threat assessment is conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of trained professionals including a school mental health professional, administrators, and school resource officers or local law enforcement.
  6. A threat assessment involves evaluation and classification of the threat (i.e., transient versus substantive), appropriate response and intervention which includes notification and involvement of parents, and a written safety plan. It should include a suicide risk assessment as these students often are also suicidal.
  7. There is NO profile of a student who will cause harm. There is no easy formula or profile of risk factors that accurately determines whether a student is going to commit a violent act. The use of profiling increases the likelihood of misidentifying students who are thought to pose a threat.
  8. Most students who pose a substantive threat indicate their intentions in some way. Examples include statements to friends, ideas in written work, drawings, and postings on social media that threaten harm.
  9. It is important to act quickly if you are concerned about a threat. Steps to take can include immediately contacting the appropriate school administrator, the school crisis team leader, the school-employed mental health professional and/or local law enforcement. It is their job to determine next steps, including potentially contacting named intended victim(s).
  10. Threat assessment should be a component of a comprehensive approach to maintaining a safe school, which offers a balance between physical and psychological safety.

It is critical to remember that behavioral threat assessment is a process to be engaged in by a team of stakeholders. We urge school administrators and other multidisciplinary team members such as counselors, social workers, and school resource officers to review and utilize this interim guidance as we work to develop a Michigan-specific model for behavioral threat assessment that includes training and resources.

Thank you,
MSP Office of School Safety