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Public Schools? Sheriff? The Mental Health System? Who Should "Own" School Threat Assessment Programs?

July 25, 2019

 

Every publication I have read places the ownership of the school threat assessment process squarely within the realm of the public school system.  I strongly disagree that this is the best option.  The primary duty of the school system is to educate students.  It is essential to educate students in a safe environment, yet the primary goal remains education.  The primary purpose of the mental health system is to diagnose and treat individuals with mental health problems and also to engage in prevention activities.  While safety is a concern for both systems, the primary goal of public safety within a county lies with the highest-ranking law enforcement officer within that county - the sheriff.  

 

I have not read an argument for the mental health system to be responsible for the school threat assessment process but wanted to include it in the discussion because a multidisciplinary threat assessment team consists of a school administrator or designee, a mental health provider, and a law enforcement officer.  I disagree that the ownership of the program should be placed with the school system, and I want to be clear that it should also not lay with the mental health system.  

 

The sheriff has jurisdiction over every person within the county.  If a threat is made toward a pubic school by a non-student, the sheriff can address it.  If a threat is made, jointly, by a current student of the public school system and a current student of a private school, the sheriff can address it.  If the public school system owns the process, only threats made by current students of the public school system are addressed.  Moving the ownership from the public school system to the sheriff's department will ensure that all threats are assessed, the same processes and procedures are in place at public schools, private schools, and community colleges, and law enforcement officers and mental health providers are not required to have multiple processes to address threats depending on where or by whom the threat originated.

 

It is my recommendation that the sheriff within each county become the administrator of the school threat assessment program and work collaboratively with the school board, central office, private school administrators, municipal police, and mental health providers to ensure a compressive program is in place in every school district.  

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Amy James, PsyD PLLC