A Behavioral Threat Assessment (BTA) is supposed to be a fact-based process to gather information about, assess and manage dangerous or violent situations in schools.
There are limits on when a Behavioral Threat Assessment can be used. They are supposed to only be used to prevent instances of severe and significant targeted violence against schools and school communities, such as threats related to weapons and mass casualties and bomb threats.
Do schools have to do a Behavioral Threat Assessment?
Currently, Vermont schools are not required to do Behavior Threat Assessments. However, all schools will be required to have a trained Behavioral Threat Assessment Team by July 1, 2025.
Many schools already have these teams. These schools have been deciding for themselves when to do a Behavioral Threat Assessment. This has led to some schools doing dozens of Threat Assessments in a single school year.
What are the general steps of a Behavioral Threat Assessment?
- A school receives a report of a possible threat.
- The school screens the threat.
- They gather information.
- They analyze it and evaluate it.
- If needed, they develop and implement intervention strategies.
- They reassess.
- They close the Behavioral Threat Assessment.
What is decided during the Screening step ?
- Is there an imminent danger to a person or place?
- Has the student threatened violence or made other communications about intent or plans for violence?
- Are there other behaviors that raise concern about violence? (Examples: sexual assault, dating violence, stalking)
- Is someone in fear?
- Does the student have an existing plan like an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 504, Behavior Intervention Plan or health plan? If so, is the behavior a baseline behavior? Can it be managed under the existing plan?
What happens during the Gathering Information step?
The Behavioral Threat Assessment team must gather information from multiple sources. This could be gathered from school staff, coaches, employers, past school records, social media sites, community-based programs and entities, parents, and the student of concern.
Find a summary of the process recommended by the Vermont School Safety Center on page 28 of their Behavioral Threat Assessment & Management guide.
What is considered when they Analyze the information?
- motivations and goals
- communication of intent to engage in violence
- inappropriate interest in past mass or targeted violence events
- any steps toward engaging in violence (examples: Staking out part of a building or buying weapons or other gear)
- the student’s mental health
- positive relationships
- the student’s own story and consistency of that story with the reported behavior
- others’ concerns of the student’s potential for violence, and
- circumstances that could impact the likelihood of the student engaging in violence.
What questions are asked during the Evaluation step?
- Does the student pose a threat of violence to others? To self?
- If not, does the person show a need for some type of help, intervention, or mental health care?
- What is the level of concern?
Concern is broken into four categories:
- Extreme: imminent threat of violence, need to make a 911 call
- High: poses a threat, but not imminent, needs safety measures and supervision
- Moderate: not a threat, but person needs assistance or support to stop the concerning behavior(s)
- Low: no concern – not a threat, no needs for assistance or support
If a team decides the student poses a threat of violence to others, to themselves, or both, the team is supposed to develop a “coordinated case management plan” to intervene.
A response to a threat could include:
- in-school changes like establishing a check-in/check-out with specific staff through the day
- referral for services and supports, and
- problem solving to address issues.
Credible and very dangerous threats can lead to stronger responses, such as kicking the student out of school or calling the police. These serious threats can lead to family or criminal court action if the concerning behavior is a crime.
Is doing a threat assessment a shortcut to getting more help for a student at school?
No. Participating in a Behavioral Threat Assessment is not the same as asking for Special Education or therapeutic services. A school should provide these services to students without a Threat Assessment.
What role does the criminal justice system and police have in Behavioral Threat Assessments?
Threat Assessments are not supposed to lead to an increase in students being kicked out of school, or being sent to juvenile or criminal court. They are not supposed to target kids from marginalized backgrounds. By law, the role of the police is limited.
If the threat is not credible or not serious and very dangerous, the Threat Assessment must not lead to a criminal system referral.
We expect to see more guidance soon. The Vermont Agency of Education is supposed to create a model policy and procedure and will consult with stakeholder groups. This policy and procedure must explain the legal rights of students in school.
If a student is assessed as a potential threat, will it be on their transcript or educational record?
It could be. If it stays in the school record, it may or may not be put on the transcript.
Students and parents have a right to know what is on the school record. They can request that a school record be corrected. They can ask for a hearing if it is not corrected.
Students and parents can also add a statement to the educational record explaining why they think it is wrong.