Table of Contents
- Prevention/Intervention Strategies
- Early Detection of Potentially Violent Behaviors
- Hazard Identification
Commissioner’s Regulation 155.17 Project I4
Emergencies and violent incidents in school districts are critical issues that must be addressed in an expeditious and effective manner. School Districts are required to develop a District Wide School Safety Plan designed to prevent or minimize the effects of serious, violent incidents and emergencies and to facilitate the coordination of schools with local and county resources in the event of such incidents or emergencies.
The District Wide Plan is responsive to the needs of all schools within the District and is consistent with the more detailed emergency response plans required at the school building level. Schools are at risk of a wide variety of acts of violence and natural and technological disasters. To address these threats, the State of New York has enacted the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) law.
This component of Project SAVE is a comprehensive planning effort that addresses risk reduction/prevention, response, and recovery with respect to a variety of emergencies in the District and its schools.
The Cohoes City School District supports the SAVE Legislation and intends to facilitate the planning process. The Superintendent of Schools encourages and advocates on-going district-wide cooperation and support of Project SAVE.
The Cohoes City School District-Wide School Safety Plan was developed pursuant to Commissioner’s Regulation 155.17. At the direction of the Cohoes Board of Education, the Superintendent of Cohoes City School District appointed a District Wide School Safety Team and charged it with the development and maintenance of the School Safety Plan.
The Cohoes City School District has appointed a District Wide School Safety Team consisting of, but not limited to, representatives of the School Board, students, teachers, administrators, parent organizations, school safety personnel, and other school personnel. The members of the team and their positions or affiliations are as follows:
- Dr. Jennifer Spring – Superintendent
- Peggy O’Shea – Assistant Superintendent
- Stacy Mackey – School Business Official
- Erin Hill – Director of Special Programs
- James Stapleton – Director of Facilities
- Bryan Wood – High School Principal
- Laura Tarlo – High School Assistant Principal
- Jeff Huneau – Athletic Director/Dean
- Daniel Martinelli – Middle School Principal
- Deanna Kelly – Middle School Assistant Principal
- Thomas Kostrzebski – Middle School Assistant Principal/Attendance Director
- Mark Perry – Harmony Hill Principal
- Clifford Bird – Abram Lansing Principal
- Jacqueline DeChiaro – Van Schaick Principal
- Laura Gerhard – Harmony Hill School Psychologist
- Rob O’Donnell – Security Guard
- Drew Rentz – School Safety Officer
- John Dimeo – School Safety Officer
- Amanda Dorr – Van Schaick Teacher
- Tina Kellar – Abram Lansing Teacher
- Sandra Tessier – Abram Lansing School Nurse
- Brianna Houle – Harmony Hill Teacher
- Lisa LeBlanc – Harmony Hill School Nurse
- Kelly Tessier – Cohoes Middle School Receptionist
- Russ Grestini – Buildings/Grounds/ Maintenance
- Kaylin Dawson– Parent
- Matt Nolin – Board of Education President
- Margaret Giller – Board of Education Vice President
- Helen Annely – Board of Education member
- Shawn Morse – Mayor
- William Heslin – Police Chief
- Joseph Fahd – Fire Chief
- Michael Needham – Safety Consultant
The District-Wide Safety Team developed the District-Wide School Safety Plan with input from appropriate school employees, i.e. food services coordinator.
The Chief Emergency Officer shall act as the liaison between the District and external agencies during time of emergencies as well as during plan development and maintenance. The Chief Emergency Officer for the Cohoes City School District is Dr. Jennifer Spring.
The District-wide School Safety Plan is directly linked to the individual Building Level Emergency Response Plans as a matter of protocol. The activation of a Building Level Emergency Response Plan triggers the notification of the chain of command and the assessment of the activation of the District Wide Emergency Response Plan and District Wide Response Team.
The District-wide School Safety Plan was developed through extensive analysis of the local environment, emergency potential, and available resources. Through training and workshops that included school employees, administration and local emergency services, the plan has been developed to address the specific needs of the Cohoes City School District and the community.
In the event of an emergency or violent incident, the initial response to all emergencies at an individual school will be by the School Emergency Response Team. The building principal is responsible for notifying the District Superintendent or the highest ranking person in the chain of command of any necessary building level plan activation. This notification shall be accomplished through the use of telephone or the district’s radio network.
Upon the activation of the School Emergency Response Team, the Superintendent of Schools or their designee, shall be notified and, where appropriate, local emergency officials shall also be notified.
County and state resources supplement the District’s emergency action planning in a number of ways:
- State and local law enforcement provide building reviews and employee training.
- Local law enforcement and emergency services participate in planning and training exercises and develop strategies for managing Building Level emergencies.
- A protocol exists for the District to use certain facilities for sheltering during times of emergencies.
- A protocol exists for the use of county mental health resources during post incident responses.
Pursuant to Commissioner’s Regulation, Section 155.17 (e)(3), this plan will be made available for public comment at least 30 days prior to its adoption. The District’s Board of Education shall adopt the District-wide Plan only after one public hearing that provides for the participation of school personnel, parents, students and any other interested parties. The plan shall be formally adopted by the Board of Education.
Full copies of the District-wide School Safety Plan and any amendments shall be submitted to the New York State Education Department within 30 days of adoption.
This plan shall be reviewed periodically during the year and maintained by the District Wide School Safety Team. The required annual review shall be completed on or before September 1 of each year after its adoption by the Board of Education.
The District has developed a number of programs and activities to aid in risk reduction. These initiatives are run at different age groups within the District. Examples of the topics covered:
- District Wide:
- Character Education Programming
- PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention & Support) Program
- Conflict resolution utilizing trained social workers
- Social Workers and School Psychologist in all five (5) buildings
- District Code of Conduct
- Staff attend annual training pertaining to violence prevention
- Crisis response/intervention plan
- Student Council
- “Every Minute Matters” – Attendance Awareness Campaign
- First Aid/CPR/AED training
- Stop the Bleed training to all staff
- Northern Rivers – Intensive behavioral support specialist located at Cohoes Middle School
- Northern Rivers – Behavioral Health Center – fee for service located at Cohoes Middle School
- PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention & Support) Programs at all elementary buildings
- Apple A Day at all elementary building
- Second Step – social/emotional programs at all elementary schools
- “Tiger Awards” program for positive behavior at the Middle School
- Berkshire Farm “Homerun” program at the Middle School (attendance initiative)
- A guidance counselor to assist with at-home and/or in-school concerns for all middle school and high school students.
- AIM (Academics, Integrity & Making a Difference) program at the High School
- Student-teacher mentoring program at the Middle School and High School
- 9th grade Academy
- Summer School (grades 9-12)
- Restorative Justice (grades 9 -12)
- Citizen Preparedness Training – American Red Cross (high school)
- Tobacco Free Collation – Juul prevention training (high school)
- C.A.R.E. (Center for Achievement, Resources and Engagement) an off campus learning program which allows for greater flexibility for students to achieve their high school diploma at Holy Trinity School
The District has attempted to enhance the security of its facilities through a number of initiatives, including the following:
- The school district has developed a parent/visitor sign-in procedure and requires the use of visitor ID badges with visual contact.
- District Staff use faculty/staff ID badges.
- The district has developed a single point of access for visitors at each building, with buzzer access.
- Building security cameras have been upgraded.
- The school has implemented classroom emergency procedures.
- School Safety Officers at the High School, a security guard at the Middle School and a shared School Safety Officer at the elementary schools.
Training, Drills, and Exercises
The District has established policies and procedures for annual multi-hazard school safety training for employees and students. Training includes:
- An annual review of the building level emergency guides and general employee awareness training for building employees conducted by each principal.
- The annual early go home drill to test evacuation and sheltering procedures.
- Each school building conducts fire drills/lockdown drills throughout the course of the year in compliance with the SED schedule for the purpose of familiarizing employees and students with emergency procedures.
The District shall conduct drills and other exercises to test and evaluate the effectiveness of the District’s Emergency Response Plan. Each building principal will forward a schedule of planned emergency drills and fire drills to the District Superintendent by the beginning of each school year.
Each principal will be required to complete a minimum number of student drills as follows: 4 lockdown drills, 8 fire/evacuation drills – 8 of which must be conducted by December 31 of each year, the balance must be conducted during the remainder of the school year.
Topics for training will include general security and safety measures, intervention strategies with difficult or challenging students, building security awareness, violence prevention, mental health, and reporting requirements and procedures.
In the execution of their duties, faculty, and aides shall have responsibility for:
- Monitoring halls, lavatories, locker rooms, locker bays and similar areas, assuring orderly passage of students and pre-emptive intervention in potentially disruptive situations.
- Observation of the general property, including the immediate outside area/perimeter of the building(s), with an obligation to report suspicious activity to district or building administration.
- Overseeing study halls, cafeterias, or other areas of student assemblage with the goal of assisting to maintain an orderly, safe environment.
Chief Emergency Officer
The Chief Emergency Officer shall act as the liaison between the District and external agencies during times of emergencies as well as during plan development and maintenance.
School Safety Personnel
School safety personnel have a critical role in violence prevention. The following represents a description of the responsibilities of school safety personnel in schools:
- The building principal or his/her designee shall serve as the School Safety Representative for the school building. The responsibilities of the School Safety Representative are as follows:
- Monitor hallways, entranceways, exits and outside grounds during school hours for unusual occurrences or unauthorized visitors.
- Act as building liaison in communicating building level safety issues or concerns.
- Represent the building on the District-Wide Health and Safety Committees.
- Attend school safety meetings and be a resource on school safety and security issues for building employees.
- Serve on the building level, School Building Response Team.
- Develop plans and strategies for building security, crime and violence prevention, safety planning and employee training.
- Participate in school incident investigations.
- Respond to all school emergencies as part of the building’s Emergency Response Plan.
- Coordinate annual school safety multi-hazard training for students and employees. Multi-hazard training shall include crisis intervention, emergency response and management.
- Employees and students shall receive annual training and drill practice on protocols for bomb threats, evacuation, sheltering, lock-down, relocate to hallway, fire emergency, bus drills, and appropriate violence prevention strategies.
- Designate procedure for informing substitute teaching and non-teaching employees of school safety protocols.
- Comply and encourage compliance with all school safety and security policies and procedures established by the Board of Education.
- Attend professional development activities on school safety and violence prevention.
- All school safety personnel shall be provided with training on violence prevention and school safety. All training courses shall receive prior approval from the Superintendent.
Hiring and Screening of School Personnel
The following hiring and screening practices are followed for the hiring of all personnel:
Fingerprinting and Criminal Background Checks:
For all employees hired by the school district, the district completes a fingerprinting and criminal background check prior to appointment. No employee works in the district until fingerprint clearance is received. Employees include:
- Any person receiving compensation for work from the school district
- Any employee of a contracted service provider involved in direct student contact
- Any worker assigned to a school under a public assistance employment program (includes part-time employees and substitutes).
References are thoroughly checked prior to extending an employment offer.
- Reference check forms are used for instructional, non-instructional and transportation personnel.
- Reference checks are completed and reviewed by the administrative team along with the application.
- Prior to making a job offer to a prospective employee, the following mandatory questions are asked during reference checks with immediate and/or past supervisors:
- Do you have knowledge of any violations of safety or security by (prospective employee) related to students, employees or others?
- Why did (prospective employee) leave your employment? Or, do you know why (prospective employee) is leaving your employment?
- Would you rehire (prospective employee)? If no, why not?
The District has implemented policies and procedures related to the early detection of potentially violent behaviors. Each building principal is responsible for the dissemination of informative materials regarding the early detection of potentially violent behaviors to employees and parents each school year. In addition, employees shall receive training on the District’s Code-of-Conduct and awareness training on violent behaviors, to be conducted or coordinated by the District Superintendent.
(Note: Below list does not include adult education staff/students or non-school programs)
The following sites have the potential for internal or external emergency situations:
Cohoes High School, 105 employees, 536 students, 9 buses
Holy Trinity School, 4 Employees, 12 students, 1 bus
Cohoes Middle School, 83 employees, 419 students, 8 buses
District Office, 21 employees, 0 students, 0 buses
Van Schaick, 42 employees, 174 students, 4 buses
Harmony Hill, 88 employees, 431 students, 8 buses
Abram Lansing, 62 employees, 478 students, 8 buses
The buildings and grounds associated with each of these facilities have the potential for a main campus or Building Level emergency or incident.
The following facilities and natural hazards that are proximate to the Cohoes City School District have been identified as having a potential for presenting emergencies that could affect the district:
- CSX Railroad
- Hudson River
- Norlite Corporation
- Route I-787
- Union Carbide (Waterford)
- Mohawk Paper
- Soft-Tex Manufacturing
Notification and Activation (Internal and External Communications)
In cases of a seriously violent incident, the District would use the procedure listed below to meet the requirements for notification and activation. A serious violent incident is an incident of violent criminal conduct that is, or appears to be, life threatening and warrants the evacuation of students and employees because of an imminent threat to their safety or health. This includes, but is not limited to, the use or threatened use of a firearm, explosive, bomb, incendiary device, chemical, or biological weapons, knives or other dangerous instrument capable of causing death or serious injury, riots, hostage-taking, or kidnapping.
Communications systems are:
Teachers and building employees – public address system
Students – Public address system and verbally from teachers
Superintendent – Phone by principal’s secretary
Buildings and grounds – Phone or radio by principal’s secretary
Board of Education – Phone or e-mail
State police/Cohoes police – 911
Fire Dept. – 911
Parents – district website, Blackboard Connect, School News Notifier
News media – Superintendent or designee, Spectrum News, Troy Record, Times Union, WFLY, WGNA, WNYT, WRGB, WRVE, WTEN, WYJB, WXXA
The Superintendent of Schools would be responsible for conveying emergency information to educational facilities within the Cohoes City School District. The Superintendent would take appropriate steps to secure the following information about each educational agency within the district: number of students, number of employees, transportation requirements associated with the evacuation of each facility; and the business and home telephone numbers of key officials of each agency. Such information would be updated at least annually by the Superintendent. Each such agency would report material changes to such data to the Superintendent of Schools, in writing, within seven (7) days of such change.
Currently, there are no non-public schools with the Cohoes City School District
Information will be provided to parents, guardians or persons in parental relation to the students in the event of a violent incident or an early dismissal through the use of telephone by employees at the building level using the student/parent directory and/or local and regional radio and TV stations. These are the same stations that are used to announce official school delays or closings. This information is provided to parents through the School District website and building handbooks. Additionally, if an event occurs at the school district where students cannot be released immediately, a parent/community public information center may be established at:
Cohoes Senior Center, 10 Cayuga Plaza, Cohoes
In the event that this public information center is established, parents and community members are not to report to the school district where a building may be in crisis, but rather gather at the Cohoes Senior Center where regular public information statements will be made by the Superintendent or designee.
Situational Responses – Multi-Hazard Response and Response Protocols
Staff cooperation is critical when an act of violence occurs. In the event of a criminal act, bomb threat, civil disturbance, intrusion, hostage taking, kidnapping or other threatening event, staff response may include:
- Verbal instructions to cease the behavior
- Call for assistance from other staff
- Verbal instructions to follow classroom emergency procedures based on the main office’s instruction over the public address system
- Call law enforcement and other necessary emergency response agencies
- Removal of any onlookers that could aggravate the situation
- Not invading the space of the individual(s) involved
- Removal of any potentially dangerous weapons or objects
- Physical restraint if other actions do not stop the violence
In the event of a violent incident, the following policies and procedures are to be followed at the district level:
- The superintendent will ensure the building-level team has adequate resources to respond to the emergency
- The superintendent will develop a public information strategy to communicate necessary information to the media, parents and staff
- The District Office will notify the assistant superintendent, who is the leader of the district’s Crisis Intervention Team of the event
- The superintendent will notify appropriate Board of Education members of the incident
- The superintendent will notify the BOCES District Superintendent that the school’s emergency plan has been activated and file any necessary information with the State Education Department (for example, school bomb threat data cards)
In the event of a violent incident, the following policies and procedures are to be followed at the school building level:
- Student reports an incident to an adult or adult observes an incident
- Adult takes appropriate action as necessary to respond to the incident
- A written referral is forwarded to the building principal
- School guidance counselor, social worker and nurse are involved when necessary
- Building principal will conference with the student(s) involved to determine the problems/issues
- If parental notification is necessary, building principal will contact the parent(s) and may arrange a parent conference
- Appropriate discipline will be administered following the District Code of Conduct and incident reported to the State Education Department when appropriate
Follow-up of the violent incident should include:
- Investigation of the incident by building principal and law enforcement, as necessary.
- Preparation of written accounts of the incident by all involved.
- Review of written accounts by the building principal for any disparities.
- Appropriate disciplinary action according to the code of conduct.
- Review of the entire incident by administration for future planning.
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- How many individuals were involved?
- Are the individuals associated with a group?
- How could the incident have been prevented?
- What warning signs were missed?
- What can we do to prevent a future incident?
- Counseling or other needed support for the victim(s), other students and staff involved in the incident.
- Necessary reporting and parental notification.
Each school’s Building Level plan lists building specific response actions to criminal acts, bomb threats, civil disturbance, intrusion, hostage taking, kidnapping, as well as technological and natural disasters.
The Cohoes City School District has a comprehensive multi-hazard Emergency Response Plan. Such plan is updated annually. Copies of the plan are available in each Principal’s Office as well as in the Superintendent’s Office and the Business Office. Elements of the plan include:
- Chain of Command
- Other Relevant Parties
- Emergency Planning Committee
- Emergency Telephone Numbers
- Telephone Tree
- First Aid List
- Fleet List
- A list of hazardous incidents and a response plan for each (e.g. bomb threat, hostage, intruder, natural disaster, structural failure, et. al.)
Chain of Command
Dr. Jennifer Spring, Superintendent
Peggy O’Shea, Assistant Superintendent
Stacy Mackey, School Business Official
Bryan Wood, High School Principal
Dan Martinelli, Middle School Principal
Erin Hill, Director of Special Programs
Arrangements for Obtaining Emergency Assistance from Local Government
The administration shall use the following process in making arrangements for obtaining assistance during emergencies from emergency services organizations and local government agencies:
- Superintendent/Designee in an emergency contacts dispatch point or 911 center for fire or EMS response.
- Superintendent/Designee contacts highest-ranking local government official for notification and/or assistance.
Procedures for Obtaining Advice and Assistance from Local Government Officials
The Administration shall use the following protocol for obtaining advice and assistance from local government officials including the county or city officials responsible for implementation of Article 2-B of the Executive Law:
- Superintendent/Designee in an emergency will contact emergency management coordinator and/or the highest ranking local government official for obtaining advice and assistance.
- The District has identified resources for an emergency from the following agencies: (examples include the Red Cross, fire department, police, private industry, private individuals, religious organizations and others).
District Resources Available for Use in an Emergency
The Cohoes City School District has created a comprehensive list of resources available during an emergency, including fuel sources, communications, food service capability, maintenance vehicle lists, and medical supplies and AED, CPR and First Aid trained staff. Specific information in each of these categories is contained in the building-level plans.
Procedures to Coordinate the Use of School District Resources and Manpower during Emergencies
The District shall use the following procedure to coordinate the use of school resources and manpower during emergencies:
- The Building Principal of the affected facility shall contact the Superintendent or the District- wide Safety Team and request the necessary manpower or resources.
- The Superintendent of Schools or the highest-ranking person in the chain of command shall assess the request and allocate personnel and resources as necessary.
Protective Action Options
The Cohoes City School District shall follow the following protocols in assessing the appropriate protective action option. The decision to cancel school, to dismiss early, shelter in place or evacuate, shall be made in cooperation with state and local emergency responders, as appropriate.
- Monitor any situation that may warrant a school cancellation – Superintendent/District Team.
- Make determination – Superintendent.
- Contact local media – Superintendent.
- Monitor any situation that may warrant school delay – Building Administrators/ Superintendent/District Team.
- If conditions warrant, delay opening of school.
- Contact Transportation Supervisor to coordinate transportation issues.
- Contact local media to inform parents of delayed opening.
- Set up information center so that parents may make inquiries as to situation.
- Provide for safety and security of employees and students who do come to school.
- Monitor situation – Superintendent/District Team.
- If conditions warrant, close school – Superintendent.
- Contact Transportation Supervisor to arrange transportation.
- Contact local media to inform parents of early dismissal.
- Set up an information center so that parents may make inquiries as to the situation.
- Retain appropriate district personnel until all students have been returned home.
Evacuation (before, during and after school hours, including security during evacuation and evacuation routes)
- Determine the level of threat – Superintendent.
- Contact Transportation Supervisor to arrange transportation – Superintendent or Designee.
- Clear all evacuation routes and sites prior to evacuation.
- Evacuate all employees and students to pre-arranged evacuation sites.
- Account for all student and employee population. Report any missing employees or students to Building Principal.
- Make determination regarding early dismissal – Superintendent or Designee.
- If determination was made to dismiss early, contact local media to inform parents of early dismissal.
- Ensure adult supervision or continued school supervision/security.
- Set up an information center so that parents may make inquiries as to the situation.
- Retain appropriate district personnel until all students have been returned home.
Sheltering Sites (internal and external)
- Determine the level of threat – Superintendent/Incident Commander/Designee.
- Determine location of sheltering depending on nature of incident.
- Account for all students and employees. Report any missing employees or student to designee.
- Determine other occupants in the building.
- Make appropriate arrangements for human needs.
- Take appropriate safety precautions.
- Establish a public information officer to provide information and current status to the situation to parents and other inquiring parties.
- Retain appropriate district personnel until all students have been returned home.
The Cohoes City School District District-wide Team will support the Building-level Emergency Response Team and the Crisis/Post-Incident Response Teams in affected schools.
The district office shall assist in the coordination of Disaster Mental Health Resources, in support of the Post-Incident Response Teams in the affected schools.
Cohoes City School District Office
21 Page Avenue, Cohoes, NY 12047
Superintendent: Dr. Jennifer Spring
Cohoes High School
1 Tiger Circle, Cohoes, NY 12047
Principal: Bryan Wood
Cohoes Middle School
7 Bevan Street, Cohoes, NY 12047
Principal: Dan Martinelli
Van Schaick Grade School
150 Continental Avenue, Cohoes, NY 12047
Principal: Jacqueline DeChiaro
Harmony Hill Elementary School
Madeline K. Hickey Way, Cohoes, NY 12047
Principal: Mark Perry
Abram Lansing Elementary
26 James Street, Cohoes, NY 12047
Principal: Clifford Bird
Holy Trinity School
122 Vliet Street, Cohoes, NY 12047
Appendix 2 – The Early Detection of Potentially Violent Behaviors: A Guide for Families and Communities
Early Warning Signs
It is not always possible to predict behavior that will lead to violence. In some situations, and for some youth, different combinations of events, behaviors, and emotions may lead to aggressive rage or violent behavior toward self or others. School personnel and students, as well as parents, are often in a good position to observe these early warning signs.
None of these signs alone is sufficient for predicting aggression and violence. Moreover, it is inappropriate–and potentially harmful–to use the early warning signs as a checklist against which to match individual children. Rather, the warning signs are offered only as an aid in identifying and referring children who may need help. A good rule of thumb is to assume that these warning signs, especially when they are presented in combination, indicate a need for further analysis to determine an appropriate intervention.
The information that follows and such other information as may be appropriate concerning Early Warning shall be made available to all employees in a form to be determined by the Superintendent. It is the policy of the Cohoes City School District that employees and students use the early warning signs only for identification and referral purposes. Trained professionals should make diagnoses in consultation with the child’s parents or guardian.
The following early warning signs are cited by the United States Department of Education in its publication entitled Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools and is presented with the following qualifications: They are not equally significant and they are not presented in order of seriousness. They include:
- Social Withdrawal – In some situations, gradual and eventually complete withdrawal from social contacts can be an important indicator of a troubled child. The withdrawal often stems from feelings of depression, rejection, persecution, unworthiness, and lack of confidence.
- Excessive Feelings of Isolation and Being Alone – Research has shown that the majority of children who are isolated and appear to be friendless are not violent. In fact, these feelings are sometimes characteristic of children and youth who may be troubled, withdrawn, or have internal issues that hinder development of social affiliations. However, research also has shown that in some cases feelings of isolation and not having friends are associated with children who behave aggressively and violently.
- Excessive Feelings of Rejection – In the process of growing up, and in the course of adolescent development, many young people experience emotionally painful rejection. Children who are troubled often are isolated from their mentally healthy peers. Their responses to rejection will depend on many background factors. Without support, they may be at risk of expressing their emotional distress in negative ways-including violence. Some aggressive children who are rejected by non-aggressive peers seek out aggressive friends who, in turn, reinforce their violent tendencies.
- Being a Victim of Violence – Children who are victims of violence-including physical or sexual abuse-in the community, at school, or at home are sometimes at risk themselves of becoming violent toward themselves or others.
- Feelings of Being Picked On and Persecuted – The youth who feels constantly picked on, teased, bullied, singled out for ridicule and humiliated at home or at school may initially withdraw socially. If not given adequate support in addressing these feelings, some children may vent them in inappropriate ways-including possible aggression or violence.
- Low School Interest and Poor Academic Performance – Poor school achievement can be the result of many factors. It is important to consider whether there is a drastic change in performance and/or poor performance becomes a chronic condition that limits the child’s capacity to learn. In some situations, such as when the low achiever feels frustrated, unworthy, chastised, and denigrated acting out and aggressive behaviors may occur. It is important to assess the emotional and cognitive reasons for the academic performance change to determine the true nature of the problem.
- Expression of Violence in Writings and Drawings – Children and youth often express their thoughts, feelings, desires, and intentions in their drawings and in stories, poetry, and other written expressive forms. Many children produce work about violent themes that for the most part is harmless when taken in context. However, an overrepresentation of violence in writings and drawings that is directed at specific individuals (family members, peers, other adults) consistently over time, may signal emotional problems and the potential for violence. Because there is a real danger in misdiagnosing such a sign, it is important to seek the guidance of a qualified professional such as a school psychologist, counselor, or other mental health specialist to determine its meaning.
- Uncontrolled Anger – Everyone gets angry; anger is a natural emotion. However, anger that is expressed frequently and intensely in response to minor irritants may signal potential violent behavior toward self or others.
- Patterns of Impulsive and Chronic Hitting, Intimidating and Bullying Behaviors – Children often engage in acts of shoving and mild aggression; however, some mildly aggressive behaviors such as constant hitting and bullying of others which occur early in children’s lives, if left unattended, might later escalate into more serious behaviors.
- History of Discipline Problems – Chronic behavior and disciplinary problems both in school and at home may suggest that underlying emotional needs are not being met. These unmet needs may be manifested in acting out and aggressive behaviors. These problems may set the stage for the child to violate norms and rules, defy authority, disengage from school, and engage in aggressive behaviors with other children and adults.
- Past History of Violent and Aggressive Behavior – Unless provided with support and counseling, a youth who has a history of aggressive or violent behavior is likely to repeat those behaviors. Aggressive and violent acts may be directed toward other individuals, be expressed in cruelty to animals or include fire setting. Youths who show an early pattern of antisocial behavior frequently and across multiple settings are particularly at risk for future aggressive and antisocial behavior. Similarly, youth who engage in overt behaviors such as bullying, generalized aggression and defiance, and covert behaviors such as stealing, vandalism, lying, cheating and fire setting also are at risk for more serious aggressive behavior. Research suggests that age of onset may be a key factor in interpreting early warning signs. For example, children who engage in aggression and drug abuse at an early age (before age 12) are more likely to show violence later on than are children who begin such behavior at an older age. In the presence of such signs it is important to review the child’s history with behavioral experts and seek parents’ observations and insights.
- Intolerance for Differences and Prejudicial Attitudes – All children have likes and dislikes. However, an intense prejudice toward others based on racial, ethnic, religious, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and physical appearance when coupled with other factors may lead to violent assaults against those who are perceived to be different. Membership in hate groups or the willingness to victimize individuals with disabilities or health problems also should be treated as early warning signs.
- Drug Use and Alcohol Use – Apart from being unhealthy behaviors, drug use and alcohol use reduces self-control and exposes children and youth to violence, either as perpetrators, as victims, or both.
- Affiliation with Gangs – Gangs that support anti-social values and behaviors–including extortion, intimidation, and acts of violence toward other students cause fear and stress among other students. Youth who are influenced by these groups those who emulate and copy their behavior, as well as those who become affiliated with them may adopt these values and act in violent or aggressive ways in certain situations. Gang related violence and turf battles are common occurrences tied to the use of drugs that often result in injury and/or death.
- Inappropriate Access, Possession and Use of Firearms – Children and youth who inappropriately possess or have access to firearms can have an increased risk for violence. Research shows that such youngsters also have a higher probability of becoming victims. Families can reduce inappropriate access and use by restricting, monitoring, and supervising children’s access to firearms and other weapons. Children who have a history of aggression, impulsiveness, or other emotional problems should not have access to firearms and other weapons.
- Serious Threats of Violence – Idle threats are a common response to frustration. Alternatively, one of the most reliable indicators that a youth is likely to commit a dangerous act toward self or others is a detailed and specific threat to use violence. Recent incidents across the country clearly indicate that threats to commit violence against oneself or others should be taken very seriously. Steps must be taken to understand the nature of these threats and to prevent them from being carried out.
Identifying and Responding to Imminent Warning Signs
Unlike early warning signs, imminent warning signs indicate that a student is very close to behaving in a way that is potentially dangerous to self and/or to others. Imminent warning signs require an immediate response.
No single warning sign can predict that a dangerous act will occur. Rather, imminent warning signs usually are presented as a sequence of overt, serious, hostile behaviors or threats directed at peers, employees, or other individuals. Usually, imminent warning signs are evident to more than one employee member–as well as to the child’s family.
Imminent warning signs may include:
- Serious physical fighting with peers or family members.
- Severe destruction of property.
- Severe rage for seemingly minor reasons.
- Detailed threats of lethal violence.
- Possession and/or use of firearms and other weapons.
- Other self-injurious behaviors or threats of suicide.
A threat is an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something. A threat can be written, spoken, or symbolic – as in motioning with one’s hands as though shooting or strangling another person. There are principally four types of threats – direct, indirect, veiled and conditional.
Threats are made for a variety of reasons: as a warning signal, a reaction to fear of punishment, anxiety, demand for attention or as retribution for a perceived or actual slight or affront. Threats may be intended to taunt, intimidate, assert power, punish, manipulate, coerce, frighten, terrorize, compel desired behavior, to strike back for an injury, injustice or slight; to be disruptive, to challenge authority or to protect oneself.
Individuals who make threats normally manifest other behaviors or emotions that are indicative of a problem. These can include: signs of depression, prolonged brooding, evidence of frustration or disappointment; fantasies of destruction or revenge in conversations, writings, drawings or other actions; expressions of intense love, fear, rage, revenge, excitement or pronounced desire for recognition. Use of alcohol or drugs can be an aggravating factor, as can a romantic breakup, failing grades or conflicts with parents or friends.
Personality traits and behaviors that should be considered in assessing the likelihood of a student carrying out a threat include:
- A student intentionally or unintentionally revealing clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act;
- Low tolerance of frustration, easily hurt, insulted, angered by real or perceived injustices;
- Poor coping skills, demonstrating little ability to deal with frustration, criticism, disappointment, failure, rejection or humiliation;
- Lack of resiliency, is unable to bounce back from frustrating and disappointing experiences; failed love relationships, cannot accept or comes to term with humiliation or rejection;
- Injustice collector, nurses resentment over real or perceived injustices, will not forgive or forget those who s/he believes are responsible;
- Depression manifested by lethargy, physical fatigue, morose or dark outlook on life, malaise, lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, unpredictable anger, generalized or excessive hatred to others, hopelessness about the future, psychomotor agitation, restlessness, inattention, sleep and eating disorders;
- Narcissism, self-centered, lacking insight to the needs/feelings of others, blames others for failure and disappointment, may embrace the role of victim, displays signs of paranoia, self-importance or grandiosity, masking feelings of unworthiness, notably thick or thin skinned;
- Alienation, feels different or estranged from others, more than being a loner, involves feelings of isolation, sadness, loneliness, not belonging or fitting in;
- Dehumanizes others, fails to see others as humans, sees them as objects to be thwarted;
- Lacks empathy, demonstrates inability to understand feelings of others, may ridicule displays of emotion as weak or stupid;
- Exaggerated sense of entitlement, has a sense of being superior and constantly expects special treatment and consideration;
- Attitude of superiority, has a sense of being superior to others, smarter, more creative, talented, experienced, more worldly;
- Exaggerated/pathological need for attention, positive or negative, regardless of the circumstances;
- Externalizes blame, consistently refuses to take responsibility for own actions, blames others, often seems impervious to rational argument and common sense;
- Masks low self-esteem, may display arrogance, self-glorifying attitude, avoids high visibility or involvement, may be considered a “non-entity” by peers:
- Anger management problems, manifested by consistent temper tantrums, melodramatic displays, brooding, sulking, seething silence, reacts out of proportion to cause, may direct anger to those who have no connection to triggering incident;
- Intolerance, racial, ethnic, religious and other, displays symbols and slogans of intolerance on self or possessions;
- Inappropriate humor, macabre, insulting, belittling, or mean.
- Attempts to manipulate others, attempts to con and manipulate to win trust so others will rationalize aberrant behavior;
- Lack of trust, is untrusting and suspicious of the motives and intentions of others, may approach clinically paranoid state;
- Closed social group, introverted, with acquaintances rather than friends, may associate only with a single small group to the exclusion of others;
- Manifests a dramatic change in behavior, academic performance, disobedience of school rules, schedules, dress codes etc.
- Rigid and opinionated, judgmental and cynical, strong opinions on topics about which little knowledge is possessed, disregards facts, logic and reasoning;
- Demonstrates unusual interest in sensational violence;
- Fascination with violence-filled entertainment, movies, TV, computer games, music videos, printed material, inordinate ammout of time with violent computer games and websites involving violence weapons and disturbing objects;
- Has negative role models, drawn to negative, inappropriate role models, Hitler, Satan or others associated with violence and destruction;
- Manifests behavior that is relevant to carrying out a threat, spends inordinate amount of time practicing with firearms, on violent websites, begins excluding normal pursuits such as homework, classwork, time with friends.
Family dynamics that should be considered in assessing the likelihood of a student carrying out a threat include:
- Turbulent parent/child relationship, relationship is particularly difficult, can be uniquely evident following recent or multiple moves, loss of parent, addition of step-parent, dismisses parents’ role in his/her life, evidence of violence in the home;
- Acceptance of pathological behavior, parents do not react to behavior that most would find disturbing’ parents appear unable to recognize or acknowledge problems in their children, respond quite defensively to real or perceived criticism of child, parents appear unconcerned about, minimize or reject reports of inappropriate behavior by child;
- Access to weapons, family keeps guns, weapons, explosives materials in the home and accessible to the children, weapons treated carelessly, without normal safety precautions, parent or role model may handle weapons irresponsibly or use as device for intimidation;
- Lack of family intimacy or closeness;
- Student “rules the roost,” few limits set for children, parents regularly submit to child’s demands, student insists on inordinate degree of privacy, parents have little information about student activities, school life, friends, or other relationships.
- No limits or monitoring of TV or Internet, parents do not supervise, limit or monitor TV, Internet, computer use or access.
School dynamics that should be considered in assessing the likelihood of a student carrying out a threat include:
- Student attachment to school, student appears detached from school, other students, teachers, and school activities;
- Tolerance for disrespectful behavior, school does little to prevent or punish disrespectful behavior between students, bullying is part of the school culture, school authorities are oblivious to bullying, little or no intervention by school authorities, school atmosphere promotes racial or class divisions, allows them to remain unchallenged;
- Inequitable discipline, discipline is inequitably applied or is perceived as such by students or employees;
- Inflexible culture, official and unofficial patterns of behavior, values and relationships among students, teachers and administrators are static, unyielding and insensitive to changes in society and the changing needs of newer students;
- Pecking order among students, certain groups have more prestige and respect – both officially and unofficially by students and school officials;
- Code of silence, prevails among students, little trust between students and employees;
- Unsupervised computer access, access is unsupervised and unmonitored, students are able to play violent games, explore inappropriate websites, promote violent hate groups, give instruction in bomb making, etc.
- Social dynamics that should be considered in assessing the likelihood of a student carrying out a threat include:
- Media, entertainment and technology, easy, unmonitored access to media, entertainment and Internet sites with violent themes and images;
- Peer groups, intense and extensive involvement with a group that shares fascination with violence or extremist beliefs;
- Drugs and alcohol, knowledge of students’ use of drugs or alcohol or changes in such use is important;
- Outside interests, outside interests of students are important to note as they can mitigate or increase the school’s level of concern in assessing a threat;
- Copycat effect, school shooting and other violent incidents that receive intense media attention can generate threats or copycat violence elsewhere, school employees should be highly vigilant in then aftermath of such incidents.
DOE and United States Secret Service Threat Assessment Guide
What are the student’s motives and goals?
- What motivated the student to make the statement or take action that caused him/her to come to attention?
- Does the situation or circumstance that led to these statements or actions still exist?
- Does the student have a major grievance or grudge? Against whom?
- What efforts have been made to resolve the problem and what has been the result? Does the potential attacker feel that any part of the problem is resolved or see any alternatives?
Has the student shown inappropriate interest in any of the following?
- School attacks or attackers; weapons (including recent acquisition of any relevant weapon); incidents of mass violence (terrorism, workplace violence, mass murders). Ask about Columbine, Satan, etc.
Have there been any communications suggesting ideas or intent to attack?
- What if anything has the student communicated to someone else (targets, friends, other students, teachers, family, others) or written in a diary, journal, or website concerning his/her ideas and/or intentions?
- Have friends been alerted or “warned away”?
Has the student engaged in attack-related behaviors? These behaviors might include:
- Developing an attack or plan
- Making efforts to acquire or practice with weapons
- Casing or checking out, possible sites and areas for an attack
- Rehearsing attacks or ambushes
Is the student’s conversation and “story” consistent with his or her actions?
- Does information from collateral interviews and form the student’s own behavior confirm or dispute what the student says is going on?
Does the student have the capacity to carry out an act of targeted violence?
- How organized is the student’s thinking and behavior?
- Does the student have the means; e.g., access to a weapon, to carry out an attack?
Is the student experiencing hopelessness, desperation and/or despair?
- Is there information to suggest that the student is experiencing desperation and/or despair?
- Has the student experienced a recent failure, loss and/or loss of status?
- Is the student known to be having difficulty coping with a stressful event?
- Is the student now, or has the student ever been, suicidal or “accident-prone”?
- Has the student engaged in behavior that suggests that he or she has considered ending their life?
Does the student have a trusting relationship with at least one responsible adult?
- Does the student have at least one relationship with an adult where the student feels that he or she can confide in the adult and believes that the adult will listen without judging or jumping to conclusions? (Students with trusting relationships with adults may be directed away from violence and despair and toward hope.)
- Is the student emotionally connected to – or disconnected from –other students?
- Has the student previously come to someone’s attention or raised concern in a way that suggested he or she needs intervention or supportive services?
Are other people concerned about the student’s potential for violence?
- Are those who know the student concerned that he or she might take action based on violent ideas or plans?
- Are those who know the student concerned about a specific target?
- Have those who know the student witnessed recent changes or escalations in mood or behavior?
What circumstances might affect the likelihood of an attack?
What factors in the students’ life and/or environment might increase or decrease the likelihood that the student will attempt to mount an attack at school?
What is the response of other persons who know about the student’s ideas or plan to mount an attack? (Do those who know about the student’s ideas actively discourage the student from acting violently, encourage the student to attack, deny the possibility of violence, passively collude with an attack, etc.?
Does the student see violence as an acceptable – or desirable – or the only – way to solve problems?
- Does the setting around the student (friends, fellow students, parents, teachers, adults) explicitly or implicitly support or endorse violence as a way of resolving problems or disputes?
- Has the student been “dared” by others to engage in an act of violence?