'We're way ahead of a lot of school districts'
Something as seemingly small as a social media post can and has triggered the Lake Oswego School District Threat Assessment Team into action. In one case, the team met with a student and sent officers to do a safety check of his house to make sure any guns were properly stored. The student didn't mean ill will. But you can never be too safe.
There's a lot a school district can do to ensure the safety of students, from providing secure buildings to conducting safety drills. Many districts have embraced the philosophy that preventative measures are the best way to protect students.
LOSD is one of them.
"I see a finely tuned, well trained threat assessment team as being a real important piece of how to keep a school district safe and secure," said John Parke, director of student safety and security at LOSD.
According to an analysis on targeted school violence by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, most student attackers have motives involving grievances with classmates, use firearms found at home, have experienced psychological, developmental or behavioral symptoms, and have had a prior disciplinary record.
Students who commit these acts often need mental health services and interventions the district failed to provide. Red flags like disturbing drawings or violent outbursts that present at a younger age go unchecked. And when they are checked, students often receive punishment instead of help.
"Early on it was: a student makes a threat against someone else, you need to immediately suspend them," Parke said. "It was a swing far to the right."
Learning from the past, models were developed to screen students and protect against a threat before harm was done.
Parke said that threat assessment teams have been around for a while and there are lots of different models.
LOSD has used the Salem-Keizer Threat Assessment System for seven years.
"The Salem-Keizer School District has developed a model working with Willamette University (and) a lot of the professors there. They've used it for many years, and they do a training annually and people from around the country come to it because it's become that well known," Parke said.
The LOSD threat assessment team is headed up by the Student Services department. The team — which is comprised of assistant principals at the middle schools and high schools, district psychologists, the district school resource officers, Parke and some elementary administrators — meets once a month. Outside of scheduled meetings, any member can call a meeting if they get tipped off about a threat or something comes up.
Anything from a suspicious note to a social media post or a violent outburst can be considered a threat.
"(We're) trying to determine whether or not the threat is just an impulsive act of anger or a student that's on this trajectory of attack-related behavior," Parke said.
There are two levels of threat assessments. In a level one assessment, the student and an adult sit down and the student is asked 12 questions. The questions are meant to determine if there's a motive, a target or a plan in place.
Parke said a level one isn't uncommon. It might happen as many as five times a year or as few as one to two times.
The results of a level one assessment are different based on the nature of the threat. It could result in disciplinary action such as a referral, or in a safety plan detailing any check-ins the student might need.
The safety plan is tailored to the individual student and designed to get to the root of the problem, taking them off the trajectory of doing harm to themselves or others.
If the assessment is taken to a level two, Parke said the county gets involved. The county will provide the student and student's family with resources.
After a threat assessment is done, the file is saved so that threats can be tracked if needed.
"It doesn't just slip through the cracks," Parke said. "So a kid that might have (a threat assessment) in second grade and another one in junior high … we don't miss it. You know, it's a kid that we just have eyes on from an early age."
Parke said whenever he hears about an incident involving school safety, he's always interested in learning from it. He said one example is the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. "If you go back and look at all of the signs that were out there, that should never have happened," Parke said. "And I gotta tell you, what we're doing in Lake Oswego, we're way ahead of a lot of school districts and a lot of states."
He trusts that the system is place is doing what it's meant to do.
"It's hard to say how many events that we've prevented, but you just got to trust the system and do everything you can for every kid that you come across," Parke said.
If you see something, say something. Threats and suspicious behavior can be reported by giving information to district staff or administration. Tips can also be submitted to Safe Oregon through SafeOregon.com or by calling or texting 844-472-3364.
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