The U.S. Secret Service offered help Thursday to school districts struggling with how to recognize students at risk of becoming the next school shooter.
Five months after an expelled student was charged with opening fire at his former Parkland, Florida, high school, killing 17 people, guidance being distributed nationwide focuses not just on identifying troubled students, but assessing their risk of becoming violent.
It’s meant to be part of the comprehensive safety plans that schools follow to secure their buildings and respond to emergencies.
“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting served as the impetus to go beyond our past work and go in depth regarding the how — how do we solve this epidemic?” Secret Service Director Randoph Alles said in a statement.
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The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center had focused on the thinking and behavior of violent students in its Safe School Initiative following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
“Keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker,” the new guidance cautions, noting there have been male and female shooters from an array of academic and social backgrounds.
Instead of honing in on a student’s personality or school performance, the guidance encourages districts to establish threat assessment teams to gather information about an identified student’s online posts, access to weapons and emotional upheavals like a breakup. It recommends maintaining contact with expelled students and offering support early, before a student’s behavior reaches a point where anyone around him fears for his safety.
“It’s how do you make sure you’re getting all the pieces,” Secret Service spokesman Matthew Quinn said. “Are you interviewing his friends, talking to his parents?”
The report contains numerous examples of shootings where potential red flags — online threats, bizarre statements, a fascination with guns — were discovered after the fact.
“Remember, the team is not attempting to predict with certainty if violence will happen,” the report says. “Instead, evaluate the presence of factors that indicate violence might be a possibility.”
The Secret Service guidance was published on the same day that AASA, The Schools Superintendents Association, released its “School Safety & Crisis Planning” toolkit to guide administrators before, during and after a crisis. The association said an accompanying 24-hour hotline will be managed by a former superintendent in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the 2012 fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The horrific school shootings we continue to hear about have created a turning point toward the issue of school safety,” AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech said.
The Secret Service is expected to release an updated study on school violence next spring. For the Safe School Initiative, the agency worked with the Department of Education to study 37 violent incidents that occurred at elementary and high schools through 1999.