Student Threat Assessment as a Standard School Safety Practice: Results From a Statewide Implementation Study

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Threat assessment has been widely endorsed as a school safety practice, but there is little research on its implementation. In 2013, Virginia became the first state to mandate student threat assessment in its public schools. The purpose of this study was to examine the statewide implementation of threat assessment and to identify how threat assessment teams distinguish serious from nonserious threats. The sample consisted of 1,865 threat assessment cases reported by 785 elementary, middle, and high schools. Students ranged from pre-K to Grade 12, including 74.4% male, 34.6% receiving special education services, 51.2% White, 30.2% Black, 6.8% Hispanic, and 2.7% Asian. Survey data were collected from school-based teams to measure student demographics, threat characteristics, and assessment results. Logistic regression indicated that threat assessment teams were more likely to identify a threat as serious if it was made by a student above the elementary grades (odds ratio 0.57; 95% lower and upper bound 0.42–0.78), a student receiving special education services (1.27; 1.00–1.60), involved battery (1.61; 1.20–2.15), homicide (1.40; 1.07–1.82), or weapon possession (4.41; 2.80–6.96), or targeted an administrator (3.55; 1.73–7.30). Student race and gender were not significantly associated with a serious threat determination. The odds ratio that a student would attempt to carry out a threat classified as serious was 12.48 (5.15–30.22). These results provide new information on the nature and prevalence of threats in schools using threat assessment that can guide further work to develop this emerging school safety practice.

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