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Legal and Strategic Considerations for Addressing Student Threats & Suicidal Behavior

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Legal and Strategic Considerations for Addressing Student Threats & Suicidal Behavior

Unfortunately, threats by students to commit self-harm or violence towards others are common in schools today. It is imperative that schools have procedures in place to immediately respond to those threats and that school employees understand how federal law may dictate additional action once the immediate threat is addressed. This one-hour presentation gives a brief overview of the legal considerations for responding to threats, trauma, violence, and suicidal behaviors.

Presenters

Jessica Sanchez
Partner
Udall Shumway

Transcript

Jessica Sanchez - My name is Jessica Sanchez. I'm a shareholder at the law firm, Udall Shumway PLC in Mesa, Arizona.

 

I am talking to you today regarding legal and strategic considerations for addressing student threats and suicidal behavior. Before we move on with the presentation, I'll just give you a little bit of information about myself. I have been practicing solely in education law since 2007. I have held positions both in private practice and as in-house council. So I get to see a variety of issues from the inside and outside as they're facing school districts and charter schools throughout the state. So very happy to be with you today to discuss some of these considerations, especially as we see that student mental health concerns are certainly ever present and on the rise, and of course, COVID has not helped with any of these considerations. And so today's presentation is just do doing a little bit of what we can, clearly we can't cover, this topic in great detail in the hour that I have, but at least I can give you an overview.

 

But before that, let me give you a disclaimer. The information provided in this presentation is for information purposes only and it should not be used in place of legal advice. So please make sure that you are contacting your legal counsel for advice concerning these specific matters, and as these matters also may vary slightly from state to state, you're gonna wanna make sure you speak with legal counsel for any state specific considerations. All right, moving on. Let's talk just a little bit again about an overview of what we are gonna discuss today and thank you for indulging me as I normally have an audience. And so I'm sorry that you're just listening to a one way recording. I'm gonna do the best that I can to possibly pose some questions throughout the presentation that I believe the audience might ask or usually ask when I'm discussing some of these topics.

 

So just a brief overview for today. This presentation is just like I said, it's a very brief scraping the surface of how school districts and charter schools might respond to threats and suicidal behaviors. Part one of the presentation is gonna discuss some strategies for how schools might immediately respond to student threats of violence, either to others or threats for self harm. Part two is gonna discuss how some federal laws may apply to these situations. And moving on to our next slide. All right, part one: Some strategies for responding to student threats and suicidal behavior. There is not any one specific way to address these, I'm just gonna be talking about one way and one particular resource.

 

So as the following slides demonstrate the best response to student threats and suicidal behavior is certainly a proactive response where number one, you'll create a caring and respectful environment where all students can feel welcome and safe and secure, but then in those circumstances where you do have a threat of violence, either self-harm or to others, you wanna make sure or that you have a plan in place to address these items when they arise. I have put one, I think, very useful resource in the materials. There are certainly others. And like I said, this is just one really good resource for strategies for responding to student threats and suicidal behavior. So the following slides come from the United States Secret Service. And they have published several resources and guides pertaining to school safety. The particular slides that I'm gonna be speaking about next comes directly from the United States Secret Service: Enhancing school safety using a threat assessment model, an operational guide for preventing targeted school violence. And I have left, the links are included in the presentation so that you can review those in their entirety. So step one, establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team.

 

So the team would be the people who would receive reports about concerning students and situations. The team would be then charged with gathering additional information, assessing the risk posed to the school community and developing intervention and management strategies to mitigate any risk of harm. So the team should really be members from a variety of disciplines. So school administration, teachers, possibly coaches who have relationships with students in that extracurricular realm, maybe teachers from extracurricular clubs, mental health providers, if you have them within your school system, your school district or your school resource officers, if you have available some kind of law enforcement representative who can be on the team, that would be excellent, your school psychologists, your counselors, your social workers, special education teachers. You wanna make sure you're covering a variety of disciplines so that everybody can bring a different perspective to the team and help you analyze data and address student concerns. You wanna make sure that the team has a designated leader, so it could be but it doesn't have to be a school administrator. Another great idea for the leader of the team might be your school psychologist or your school counselor.

 

Typically these folks are usually charged with addressing some of the mental health considerations for students, and so those might be great people to lead this process. The team should also establish protocols and procedures such as who will interview the student, classmates, teachers, and who will document the team's actions and what each team member's role and responsibilities will be. The team should meet on a regular basis to review the policies, the practices, make sure they're working, see if they need to make any tweaks to the system, but then certainly anytime there's an actual student concern the team should meet to address that at student concern, in addition to meeting on a regular basis.

 

All right, step two, define the prohibited and the concerning behaviors that the team is going to address. So what kinds of prohibited behavior should trigger an immediate intervention? For example, threats to shoot at the school, threats to bomb the school, threats to kill a student, bringing a weapon to campus, or it could be again, looking at students who might engage in self harm, are there certain triggers? When students suddenly withdraw from everybody, if they're isolated, if they start acting erratically or depressed, are they making threats to harm themselves? So these might all be things that would trigger a meeting of the threat assessment team. And then if those concerning behaviors are observed, the team can then offer supports and services like mental health services, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, social and family services depending on what the particular threat is and what the circumstances are; is it because of academic stress? Is it because of something happening in the home? Is it because there is a lack of shelter, safety or food? And so whatever behaviors are happening when the team can delve into those, what kinds of services can you offer to address those concerning behaviors? The guide from the United States Secret Service in this document that I'm referencing recommends setting a low threshold for intervention so that the team can identify students in distress before the behavior escalates to the point where there are concerns about the student safety or the safety of others. So your team shouldn't just be meeting only when a student has come to school with a gun or made a threat. Obviously those are gonna be times when you meet, but hopefully there's a way to bring concerns even before those behaviors escalate to that high level.

 

So you wanna set a low threshold for when the team is going to intervene so that we can be more proactive about addressing those specific student concerns. You also step three, you wanna create a central reporting mechanism. So how can teachers, other student, the student in question, parents, how might people raise concerns about a student? So will you have an online form? Is there somewhere that students, or staff, or others can go on the website? Is there a particular email address or phone number? Is there an app that people can use? So what will be your central reporting system? So ensuring things are accessible, especially students, now everybody's on their phone, is there a way to make it easy to report concerns about student's behavior? Ensure that the process provide anonymity to those who are reporting concerns. And then this one is super important, and again, one where you're gonna wanna consult your legal counsel is make sure that whatever systems you are using you have in place people who are monitoring those reports and who can follow up on those reports. Usually these reports can happen 24/7. So do you have somebody who's able to get these reports and respond to them quickly?

 

So you wanna make sure that you have a mechanism in place where if that one person who's in charge of this is on vacation, that someone else is able to step in. So make sure you consider these factors, especially if you're gonna place out there this duty that you're taking on to respond to all these concerns, make sure you've put in place mechanisms to respond to these concerns when they happen. And then make sure you train all your stakeholders for how to recognize concerning behaviors, and then what their role and responsibilities are to report the behavior. And mainly it's that other students and staff have an obligation to report that there might be a concern with a particular student or students, but you wanna make sure that you are giving training to staff, students and others about how to recognize concerning behaviors and then how to report those concerning behaviors so the threat assessment team can follow up. Step four, determine the threshold for law enforcement interventions. So especially when there's a safety risk. So when are you gonna call police for certain concerns? So obviously law enforcement should be involved anytime there's a report of a gun on your campus, or any other weapon, if there's been threats of violence or threats to anybody's safety.

 

So, again, like the bomb threats, the threats to shoot up the school, threats against a particular person, if for some reason illegal drugs are involved then what is the threshold that should be a call law enforcement moment. So define in your process when are you gonna involve law enforcement in this process. Step five, establish your threat assessment procedures. So what will be your threat assessment procedures? And they should include your practices for maintaining documentation, identifying sources of information, reviewing records, conducting interviews and procedures should include the following investigative themes to guide the assessment process. Make sure you have a process that looks at motive, what motivated the student to engage in the behavior of concern? What is the student trying to solve? What's that main motive for how they're acting?

 

Communications: Have there been concerning unusual threatening or violent communications? Are there communications about thoughts of suicide, hopelessness or information relevant to the other investigative themes? Does the student have any inappropriate interests? So does the student have an inappropriate interest or fixation on what weapons on school attacks, on mass attacks, other violence? Is there a fixation on a particular issue or person? So for example, a potential victim or victims. So are there any kind of unusual, inappropriate fixations or interests that are concerning? Weapon access. Does the student have access to weapons? Is there evidence of any kind of manufactured explosives or incendiary devices? Looking at their web searches at school or anything that might be publicly available. Again, check with your attorney on any kind of search of personal property. Generally speaking, any kind of school technology that's being used by the student is fair game to school administrators as long as you've let your school community know that that's your property and you retain the right to access it at any time.

 

But check with your lawyer anytime you're looking at doing a personal search of student property. Does the student have any stressors? Have there been any recent setbacks, losses or challenges? Have they lost someone that's important to them? Have they had a bad breakup? How are they coping with those stressors? Did they fail a class? I mean, there's all kinds of different stressors that students are dealing with, and then how are they coping with some of those stressors? Are there any emotional and developmental issues? So is the student dealing with mental health issues or any developmental disabilities? Is the student's behavior a product of those issues? What resources might the student need? And then we're gonna talk about that a little bit later when we discuss your Child Find obligations and some of the federal laws that come into place when there exists a disability including a mental disability for students. Is the student in a state of desperation or despair? Has the student felt hopeless, desperate, or are like they're out of options? Does the student consider violence to be an option? Do they feel like that's a way to solve their problem? Have they had those thoughts in the past? These are all part of these investigative themes that you need to be looking at. Are you concerned about others? So has the students' behavior elicited concern from other students, staff, from their parents, from coaches, from other people in the school community, and was the concern related to safety? Take a look at capacity, is the student organized enough to plan and execute an attack? Does a student have the resources to do that? Have they engaged in any planning? Have they researched tactics, selected targets or practiced with weapons? Are they looking at maps of the school or where somebody lives?

 

So you wanna look at, how for are along are they in this planning process? Look at consistency. Are the student statements consistent with his or her actions or what other observe? And if not, why? Are there any protective factors to be aware of? Are there positive and pro-social influences in the student's life? Does the student have a positive and trusting relationship with an adult at school? Does a student feel emotionally connected to other students? And then once you've taken a look and collected data on all those different investigative themes, motive, planning, then you wanna move on to step six, develop risk management options. So once the team has completed its assessment, it can determine whether the student is at risk for self harm or harming someone else at school, the team can then develop risk management strategies that reduce the student's risk for engaging in violence and make positive outcomes for the student more likely.

 

Each student who is evaluated by the team will then have some kind of individualized management plan, some kind of plan tailored to whatever the threat assessment team found when they were looking at all those various factors. And then that plan should include, of course, resources and supports depending on what the threat assessment team found. And then even when the team has determined that a student is not currently at risk for engaging in acts of violence, either against others or against themself, the student may still require some monitoring or need guidance or services. So for example, peer groups, therapy, counseling, tutoring, life skills, and the like. When the student is suspended or expelled from school, which is an option, so for many schools and school districts if a student has actually gone to the point where they have actually made a threat against other students or against the school, typically that creates a disruption to the school environment where that student might be looking at a suspension or an expulsion.

 

If there's a disability involved, there are other protections before a student can be suspended or expelled. That might be the subject of a different training. But for the most part, when students have gone to that level suspension and expulsion tend to be options for schools to enforce once a student has gone. So if that happens, if a school goes ahead and disciplines a student because they made an actual threat to other students or to the school, the threat assessment team should look at ways to stay connected to the student and monitor the student. Depending on which state you're living in many states have requirements for alternative to suspension or expulsion program so that the students can keep up with their academics and their credits. That may or may not be the case for whatever jurisdiction you're in. But if a student is suspended or expelled for having made threats against others or against the school, the threat assessment team should look at ways of keeping that student connected and still delivering some services and supports to help that student for when eventually they reintegrate back into the school system, but also so that you can keep tabs and monitor whether the student is a safety risk and whether there's any kind of risk of them coming to the school and aging in any sort of violence.

 

So even if the solution ends up being to suspend or expel a student, the threat assessment team should look at ways to stay connected to monitor and to still give some supports to that student so that you can try and prevent acts of violence in the future. Also as part of the risk management options, again, consider when law enforcement needs to be involved, but law enforcement should be notified immediately if the student is thinking about or planning to engage in violence. So if they have made those threats to harm themselves or others we'd wanna also consider involving law enforcement in some of our response strategies.

 

And then efforts should be made to address the safety of any targets by altering or improving security procedures for the schools or providing guidance on how to avoid the student of concern. If the student stays at school and maybe it wasn't such a high level threat but we still feel like other students might be involved, one common strategy is to create a safety plan where we map out ways for how the students are gonna get to their classes so that they can avoid seeing each other. So those are the kinds of strategies that you might wanna consider as well for how to protect potential victims. Of course, any victims who has actually had their safety threatened can pursue other avenues outside of the school, such as injunctions against harassment, orders of protection and the like, and then the school should work with their legal counsel in terms of how to address those at school.

 

Also a part of step six, create a situation that is less prone to violence by asking the student's family or law enforcement to block the student's access to weapons while connecting the student to some positive pro-social models of behavior. Moving on to the next slide, still on step six, where we're developing our risk management options, make sure we remove or redirect the student's motive. For example, if they were being bullied, address their bullying concerns, make sure that we are putting efforts in place to prevent that student from being bullied, disciplining the aggressors in that situation, or like I said, planning some kind of map so that they don't have to see each other, providing counseling to the student who's experiencing personal setbacks, peer groups, more of those strategies that we've mentioned. And then reduce the effective stressors by providing resources and supports that help the student manage and overcome negative events, setbacks and challenges. Okay. Step seven, which actually should be step A in all of this is to create and promote a safe school climate.

 

So before we're even getting into our threat assessment process, we should make sure that we are doing everything we can to build a school climate that's based on a culture of safety, respect, trust, and social and emotional support. So students should feel connected to their school, to their classmates and to their teachers. Encourage teachers and staff to build positive, trusting relationships with students. Get to know students names, making sure that the kids who look like they're lonely and don't have friends that we're making efforts to try to create some peer connections for them or having that trusted adult reach out so that there's a relationship at school. We want all students to feel connected to their community and some students need more help than others. And so we wanna make sure we're creating that climate where everybody feels welcome. Break down the codes of silence and help educate students to feel empowered to come forward and share concerns with a trusted adult. So not just students who are experiencing, for example, bullying themselves, but students who observe it happening to other students. We wanna make sure that we're encouraging our entire school community to not be silent. If you see something say something and there's a number of programs and anti-bullying programs that can be implemented at schools just to try to create culture where it's okay to make reports about things like bullying, about concerning behavior, we don't want students keeping those things to themselves. And then, like I mentioned earlier, adults should help identify clubs or teams at school that students can join. And I help identify ways for students to connect their various interests to their school environment. And then step eight. Conduct a training for all stakeholders.

 

So we need to make sure that everybody understands that school safety is everyone's responsibility. So it's not just the SRO, it's not just the principal or the assistant principal, it's really everyone. So all stakeholders, students, faculty, staff, and really by staff it should be anybody that students might come in contact with; lunch personnel, the cafeteria workers, the maintenance workers, everybody should really be trained including administrators, parents, law enforcement, about what their role is in keeping the school community safe. And really for most people, it's making sure that they know where to go if they have a concern. So understand how to do those initial reports to the threat assessment team, or just having that centralized place where concerns can go if people notice a student who's all of a sudden withdrawing or isolating from their friends, or student who appears to be like having unusual interest in guns or school shooting. So we wanna make sure that everybody understands their role to report concerning behavior, where to report that behavior and how to report that behavior. Some other helpful resources, again, the United States Secret Service they have a whole section of their website devoted to school safety.

 

So I encourage you to go peruse all of the resources that they have to offer. Another very helpful organization with a webpage that has phenomenal resources is the National Association of School Psychologists. They have information about, again, this threat assessment process. So again, the United States Secret Service was one process, the National Association of School Psychologists has another process. The whole point is really just being able to report concerns, being able to collect data about those concerns and then responding to those concerns with a multidisciplinary team who can put together a good plan, but the National Association of School Psychologists has these resources as well.

 

So I encourage you to look at their website. In addition to just threat assessments, they have a lot of information about trauma screening, they have a wealth of information, hopefully we're getting through our COVID-19 pandemic, but there's a lot of really good information there about addressing anxiety about returning to school or addressing the mental health issues that came with not having school and not having peer interactions, how to do threat assessments in a virtual environment. So there's all kinds of great information in for how to deal with some of these issues in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. All right. So that was part one, which again, had mostly to deal with how do I respond to these issues when they come up? And so, again, having a school culture and climate that promotes a welcoming environment in student safety is paramount, and then you wanna make sure you have threat assessment processes in place to address threats of violence at school, either students threatening to harm themselves or threatening to harm others. So those were, what do we do to immediately respond when these things happen?

 

Now we're gonna move on to part two. So part two are the legal considerations for addressing student threats and suicidal behaviors. And again, because we're dealing... 'Cause I can't go into every single state's authority, we're dealing mainly with federal laws. And when we're looking at federal laws and legal consideration there's no one law that addresses how schools should respond to violence, threats and suicidal behavior. So schools are mandated to foster culture and climate that cares about all students and provide students with supports and services necessary. You're gonna wanna check your state specific mandates to create policies that address bullying, harassment, intimidation, hazing. So various states are gonna have probably similar, but everybody's gonna have their own state specific law about anti-bullying policies, anti-harassment policies, policies to address intimidation, dating violence, and disruptions to the school environment. So you're gonna wanna make sure that you look at your state laws for any of those items.

 

You also wanna take a look at your state specific laws about the duty to warn others about violence. And so what I mean by that, when a student threatens to harm themself states might differ on where the duty is to involve the parents, or if a student threatens another student where the duty might be to warn that student about appending through. So please check with your legal counsel, please check your state specific guidance on those issues. And then as we move on in this particular presentation, I'm just gonna talk about several federal laws that potentially address threats of violence and suicide, and it's really when those behaviors are the results of a disability, I'm also gonna discuss a federal law that addresses homelessness, and then I'm gonna address federal laws that address privacy issues when we're looking at all of these considerations. So moving on, all right, in terms of our federal disability laws, we're mainly concerned with two, we do have the Americans with Disabilities Act when schools and charter schools are looking at disability concerns, we look more to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the IDEA, which is the individuals with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

 

So I'm gonna be focusing on those two laws, Section 504 and the IDEA. So in looking at 504 and IDEA, I think probably one of the biggest things to be aware of when we're talking about some of these mental health considerations is that both of these laws have what are called Child Find requirements. And those requirements mandate that school districts and charter schools take affirmative steps to identify, evaluate, and provide services to eligible students with disabilities. So not only do we need to address the needs of students with disabilities who are in our system, we need to take proactive measures to identify students who might be suffering from a disability within our school systems, whether or not they have brought those concerns to us. And I'm gonna elaborate on that a little bit more as we go through this presentation.

 

So brief overview of Section 504. Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability. Students with disabilities must be provided equal access to an education, and the services, and accommodations necessary to access that education. Additionally, schools and school officials can be held liable for not taking reasonable steps to prevent or address harassment or bullying based on disability. So these are very general kind of sky level view of these issues, but in terms of equal access, let's take that first. A student with a disability should still have equal access to their education. We're gonna talk about this later on in the slide, but what that means is if we have a student who, for example, is suffering from a mental and impairment or a mental disability, we need to make sure we're putting services and supports in place so that that student is able to still take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them and is not kept out of their education simply because they have a mental impairment. And we're gonna talk about that later. And then looking at just quickly, this harassment and bullying, students who because of a disability are harassed and bullied that is prohibited under Section 504. We need to have policies and procedures in place, obviously to prohibit students from being bullied, harassed, or intimidated based on their disability, but we also need to have procedures in place to respond to those bullying incidents if they happen. And so we'll delve into this a little bit more in these next few slides.

 

So taking a look at Section 504 and the FAPE requirement. 504 contains an obligation on public agencies to provide a free and appropriate public education for eligible students. So for students who qualify for FAPE under Section 504 as having a disability. And FAPE as we're gonna talk about later, really means providing those accommodations and services that are necessary for that student to address their disability so that they can take advantage of their education and their educational environment. So for a student to qualify for the FAPE aspect of Section 504, that student must meet three criteria; the student must have criteria number one, a mental or physical impairment, criteria number two, which substantially limits, criteria three, one or more major life activities. So you have to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. And we're gonna talk about that in the slides that are coming up next. And then following the enactments, so Section 504 takes a lot of its guidance from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended to broaden eligibility so that eligibility is construed and is broad of a manner possible so that we can identify those students or persons with disabilities who might need supports. So as we talk about this criteria on the upcoming slides, bear in mind that when we're looking at eligibility it's a very low threshold to be eligible for Section 504 protection. So again, in order to be eligible for the FAPE requirement a student must have a physical or mental disability... I'm sorry, a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more major life activities, and we're gonna break that down on the slides that follow. So, first of all, what is a physical or mental impairment? And remember when we're talking about Section 504 and disabilities, we're talking about a range of disabilities.

 

So it's any kind of physical disability... Disability, excuse me, where a student might be in a wheelchair, or where a student might have diabetes, or irritable bowel syndrome, or a student might have schizophrenia. So disabilities can be in any kind of manner, any kind of physical or mental impairment. I'm trying to focus again more on this presentation when we're talking about students who have engaged in threats against themself or others. And so, again, remember that Section 504 is very broad in the kind of disabilities that it covers. I'm gonna be focusing on, again, what types of physical or mental impairments might be considered when we're looking at things like threats of violence and self harm. So going back to our criteria, a student must have a physical or mental impairment and that includes, but is not limited to any physiological disorder or any condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical laws affecting one or more of the body symptoms. Mental or psychological disorders are also covered. So Section 504, unlike the IDEA, which we're talking about next does not limit eligibility to specific diseases or categories of medical conditions. The only thing that's not taken into account is environmental, cultural, and economic disadvantages.

 

Those are not covered unless the student is also dealing with a physical or mental impairment. So let me go back a little bit. So again, when we're talking about physical or mental impairments, we mean anything, we mean any kind of disruption, any of the body's major functions. So we're talking and then any kind of mental impairment. So schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, physical impairments might be like the definition says, loss of an appendage, or it might be something like diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, trying to just think of all these different polycystic ovarian syndrome. So it's any kind of physical or mental impairment that is substantially limiting a major life activity. So let's talk about what we mean by substantially limiting. And there no definition under Section 504 for the term substantially limits. And really they shouldn't use the word substantial because they don't mean substantial. What they mean is that a student's impairment if they are restricted as to the conditions, manner or duration under which they can be performed in comparison to most people. So if the impairment is limited in manner duration compared to most people. So if your mental or physical systems are not functioning up to what in comparison to what most people would be experiencing, then that is considered substantially limiting. An impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be substantially limiting, it just means that you are not able to perform or be at capacity the way somebody in the general population would be. Very confusing, but again, wish we had more precise definitions, but we don't.

 

So any kind of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include but are not limited to; caring for oneself, performing manual task, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, writing, communicating, interacting with others and working. Major life activities also include the operation of any majorly bodily functions such as the immune system, special sense organs, normal cell growth, your digestive system, your bowels, your bladder, neurological, brain functions, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, lymphatic, musculoskeletal and reproductive systems. The operation of a major bodily function includes the operation of an individual organ within a body system. So again, any kind of physical or mental impairment that substantially limits any major life activity, and if you meet all three of those criteria you're gonna be considered to have a disability under Section 504. So once you meet that threshold, let me throw out some examples.

 

Again, somebody with severe, I won't even say severe. Somebody with depression might be substantially limited in how they interact with others, in how they communicate. That would qualify a student as eligible under Section 504 as a student with a disability. Somebody who has severe ADHD is substantially limited in their ability to concentrate or focus on tasks. Somebody who has, just giving another example away from our current topic, someone who has diabetes has a physical impairment that substantially limits the way their body processes sugar, and that's also gonna affect other life activities such as eating. So again, it's important to look at all these categories in a very broad manner. Section 504 wants you to look at eligibility in a very broad way. So once a student qualifies as disabled under Section 504, they are entitled to a free and appropriate public education and the services and accommodations that are necessary to access the educational environment.

 

So in the context of this training, again, looking at student threats of violence and students threats of harm to themself or to others, it's important to remember that certain concerning behaviors such as threats to others, self harm might trigger your Child Find requirements under Section 504. A student might be suffering from a mental impairment that includes conditions like depression, anxiety that substantially limits their ability to have appropriate peer relationships or have appropriate behavior and the like. And it's not just limited to this example, I'm just giving some of the more common examples when we're looking at these issues of threat to self and threats to others. So a student who is depressed and is considering suicide, it might be that they just had a traumatic event where they lost a family member and perhaps through counseling, they're no longer showing those tendencies or that depressive state, but threats to harm yourself or threats to harm others are not typical responses to things like depression or to things like loss. And so a lot of times some of these students who make these threats, maybe it's just a mistake in that moment.

 

But for many students they might be suffering from some underlying conditions like anxiety, like depression, like schizophrenia, where it goes back to that Child Find requirement where it's important that we're looking at these, evaluating the student, deciding whether or not they qualify under Section 504, and then if they do qualify, because they meet that definition of having a mental impairment that substantially limits, again, for example, their ability to have appropriate peer relationships or their ability to maintain appropriate behavior at school, then we need to look at interventions and services that are necessary to provide a free and appropriate public education. And then we need to develop not only an individualized management plan following a threat assessment, but we might be looking at a Section 504 plan for that student. And under that Section 504 plan, we might be looking at things like accommodations to help, I'm just giving an example of a student who is anxious about a large school environment, maybe they get accommodations where they can go to their classes not during the regular passing period where they're overwhelmed, but when things are a little bit quieter, maybe we look at specialized classes where they don't have as many students in that class, maybe we look at having things like counseling support, or support from the school psychologist, perhaps the student will get access to peer groups, behavior resources, things to help them appropriately communicate with students.

 

Many students with autism don't have appropriate communication skills and it's appropriate to provide those social groups and social skills for those students to learn how to communicate appropriately and not say things that might be construed as bullying or threats to other students, or maybe they need to understand in their receptive language the communications of other students so that they don't perceive it as bullying or harassing. So again, this training is just scratching the surface, but it's important to look at when students are making threats to themself or to others; is there an underlying issue and could a disability be a factor where then we need to look at this student, not just from the threat assessment perspective but from the Section 504 perspective of what accommodations and services can we provide in the school environment to help make that student successful? And then similarly speaking under the IDEA, a student might qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Improvement Act.

 

So now we're gonna move on to the IDEA, and the big difference between the IDEA and Section 504 is that in order to receive services under the IDEA, students have to qualify as a student with disability under various specific eligibility categories. And then they have to require special education related services as a result of that disability or disabilities. So disability categories under the IDEA include things like an intellectual disability, hearing impairment, speech or language impairment, visual impairment, serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, specific learning disability, death, blindness, or multiple disabilities. So while eligibility in other categories is not precluded, so a student can have a learning disability and also have a mental illness and qualify under the IDEA.

 

So I'm not trying to limit or pigeonhole any student to one particular eligibility category. But again, just in the context of this presentation, students who are making threats of violence to themself or to others oftentimes might qualify under the IDEA under one of the following eligibility categories. So one is emotional disturbance, and that means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics, over a long period of time, and two, a marked degree that adversely affects the child's educational performance. So we don't just mean, like I said, a student who loses a family member and has a rough time for a period of time, that is reasonable in terms of a mourning period. But once we see that a student is exhibiting characteristics over a long period of time to a marked degree and it begins affecting their educational performance, they might qualify under the IDEA as a student with an emotional disturbance. And that will include things like an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual sensory or health factors, an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances, a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

 

So usually the students with an emotional disturbance are dealing with things like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, that's just to name a few. The term under the IDEA does not include students who are socially maladjusted. So we have to be linking it to a particular mental disability. So not just for example, somebody who just didn't receive parenting growing up or didn't receive limits for their behavior in their home, but usually under the ED category, it's students who are suffering from some kind of mental illness. Another common eligibility category where a child might be identified after having made threats to themself or others might be other health impairment. That means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to the environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that is due to a chronic or acute health problem such as asthma, attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and adversely affects a child's educational performance.

 

OHI is also used for other impairments but those are typically the big ones; ADHD. And let's see. And then just a note, just because a student may not meet one of the eligibility categories above, does not mean that they're not gonna have social or emotional needs. So for example, you might have a student with a learning disability and then the academic stress and just the stressors of dealing with that disability might cause other things like depression or anxiety about school, which could lead to disruptive behaviors like we're talking about, threatening others. And so just because a student doesn't fall into one of the major categories... I'm sorry. One of the categories that I mentioned like ED and OHI, you might have a student with a traumatic brain injury that could be having some of these behaviors or a student with orthopedic impairments that might still be having some of these issues. So again, just because a student isn't emotionally disturbed doesn't mean that they can't have some of these needs. So once a student has been identified as a student with a disability under the IDEA, we have to address all of their academic and social and emotional needs. So if a student is eligible under the IEP and then for whatever reason they start to engage in threats of violence against themself or others, that is a serious social and emotional need that needs to be addressed in their IEP and that we'll have to address if we're gonna be providing that student with a free and appropriate public education. The IDEA and Section 504 are both very complicated and mirror their own full day workshop.

 

Again, these are just talking on various surface level about your obligation to identify students with disabilities and how some of these threat assessment problems might lead you to some of those Child Find circumstances. So like Section 504, the IDEA requires that once a student is identified that they have an individualized education plan that provides for them, the special education and related services and supplementary aids that are needed in order for them to make progress in school, and progress, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Each IEP requires a statement of the anticipated frequency location and duration of services. So we have to be specific about what we're giving and why in order to address their needs. So typically we think of students under IEPs as having academic services, but the IDEA is also a lot broader than that, and again, we have to meet all of a students academic functional, emotional needs, and so related services could mean things like transportation, developmental services, other services that are required to help the child; it could be nursing services, counseling services, services from the school psychologists, behavioral services.

 

So the IDEA does not dictate an exhausted list of services, but we have to provide services to address those needs. So again, looking at this bulleted list, things like speech, language, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, counseling services including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services. Specifically in looking at, again, those threatening student behaviors, the speech language services, the ability to communicate appropriately with peers and adults, the ability to receive communications appropriately might be all be included in something like speech therapy. The psychological service, or the counseling, or the behavioral, how do you respond to anger? What's an appropriate way to manage your anger? How do we appropriately raise our concerns without threatening violence? These are all things that would be looked at and should be addressed in an IEP if a student is found to qualify for these services.

 

So other related services also include things like medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, school health services, social work services in schools, parent and counseling training. So many times parents don't have the resources or the skills that they need in order to effectively raise their children. And so in some circumstances, it's appropriate to give that parent counseling and training for how to deal with inappropriate or disruptive behaviors. The social work services might be to get at those underlying issues of addressing student in their home who don't feel secure, or who are suffering from not having enough food, or adequate clothing, or a medical care. So all of these things are appropriate to look at under the IDEA. And again, it's important to remember that certain concerning behaviors such as threats to others or self harm, again, my whole point in this part of the presentation is that when students are engaging in these very serious threats it might trigger your obligation to look at that student from a disability perspective, so under either Section 504 or the IDEA, because some of these concerning behaviors may be the result of a student disability. And then once the student has been and identified as a student who is entitled to an individualized education plan, it's important to address all of their needs at school including their social and emotional needs. All right, moving on just a really quick... Moving on to a completely separate federal law, but just understand that when it comes to students mental health and students engaging in threats of violence to themself or others, it's also important to be aware that the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act mandates several requirements to eliminate barriers for students who are experiencing homelessness.

 

So there's a lot of requirements in that act to try to reduce barriers for enrolling in school and then helping students get the supports they need to be successful in school. But the act also requires that school districts and charter schools provide referrals for mental health services for homeless students, for those students in need of those services. So just be aware of that requirement as well for your students who are experiencing homelessness. All right, finally, we're just gonna talk about privacy rights and mainly the confidentiality concerns under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, so FERPA. Just when we're looking at these items such as threat assessments and evaluations for disabilities and the like, so it's important just to remember your confidentiality requirements under FERPA. The IDEA also has similar protections that apply to students, it mostly mirrors the requirements of FERPA, so I'm gonna stick to FERPA.

 

So FERPA requires that a parent or adult student provide written consent prior to the release of any personally identifiable information. So we have to keep student information confidential. Certainly if you are engaging in a threat assessment process of a student, those documents, that process is confidential and shouldn't be released to others without parent consent unless that release meets certain requirements. So FERPA does make exceptions to a requirement to get parent or adult student consent prior to releasing information, and that includes, for example, disclosure to other school officials including teachers within the agency or institution with whom the agency has determined have legitimate educational interests. So certainly your threat assessment team has a legitimate educational interest in looking at personally identifiable information of students. So there is no requirement to get parent consent before giving information to somebody who has a legitimate educational interest, which would include people on your threat assessment team. The threat assessment team members though are then precluded from sharing that with other people who don't have that same legitimate educational purpose.

 

FERPA also allows school districts and charter school to release information to contractors, consultants, or volunteers who are engaging in educational functions that their employees would normally engage in. So when we have somebody like an SRO, or perhaps a mental health volunteer participating on our communities, that is okay under FERPA, so long as they're providing a service that an employee would normally provide, as long as they're under the direct control of the agency, and as long as they understand their requirements to keep information confidential and not re-disclose it. FERPA also allows an exception that we can disclose information to another school where the student seeks to enroll so long as that disclosure's for purposes related to the student's enrollment or transfer. So we're not necessarily transferring our threat assessment documents from one school to another, but we can transfer what we need in order to help effectuate an enrollment. We can also disclose information in connection with a health or safety emergency.

 

So if we are calling the paramedics because a student has harmed themselves, or we're calling the police because they're threatening to harm others, it is appropriate to share certain educational and personal information with those people to the extent necessary for them to respond to that health or safety emergency. All right. There's also an exception that schools can without parent consent disclose subject to certain requirements under FERPA information to a victim of an alleged or an alleged perpetrator of a crime or violence. We can give them certain information about what has been done to respond to what has been done to the perpetrator in certain circumstances, or that we have investigated the matter. Let's see. And then again, student privacy and confidentiality must be maintained with all aspects of any kind of threat assessment process or any process to identify and provide services to a students with a disability. Anything that doesn't meet one of the exceptions under FERPA, and FERPA has other exceptions that I didn't list. Those are just the main ones that come into play when we're talking about threat assessments and the evaluation process for disabilities. Anytime an exception doesn't apply, we need to make sure that we're getting parent consent to disclose information to any kind of third party, like I said, except when there is an exception like the one that I've talked about.

 

So some takeaways, 'cause we are at the end of our presentation, and I thank you for your attention over this hour. Like I said, this could very easily be an entire day and we've only scratched the surface. The main point is really just to give you an overview of, in general, how to respond to student threats of violence to themself or others. So schools must, where you can create an environment that's welcoming to all students and have a process in place to respond to concerning be student behavior. When concerning behaviors are the result of a disability, make sure that you're following the federal laws and the processes under Section 504, and/or the IDEA to identify and provide services to those students with qualifying disabilities. And then at all times you need to make sure that you are maintaining the confidentiality of student information, except where FERPA has provided an exception. So I hope you enjoyed the presentation and got something out of it. Please look at those other resources that I cited 'cause that really has a lot of good information for the actual ins and outs of threat assessments. And have a great morning, afternoon or evening, depending on when you're listening to this. Thank you so much.

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1h 38s

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