By Philip Haldiman
Unfortunately threats to students and school properties have become a normal part of life in this country.
Last year, Peoria Unified School District experienced 13 credible threats and five have been recorded so far this year at district schools.
Seeing the rise in incidences in recent years, administrators recently shared threat assessment updates with the governing board.
Deputy Superintendent Steve Savoy said the process has been ongoing in dealing with such threats. Threat assessment is an inquiry-based process conducted by a team of people both at the site and the district level to determine if a student poses a threat of school violence, he said.
“Threat assessment is part of a whole comprehensive plan addressing the safety and well being of our students,” he said. “This is done so we have a process to vet out how serious a threat is.”
The process begins when a person indicates by word or conduct the intent to cause physical injury or serious damage to a person or their property.
When a threat occurs, the student involved must have due process, Mr. Savoy said.
“What that means is just because you receive a threat doesn’t mean that it is true,” Mr. Savoy said. “You need an opportunity to talk to that student, dig a little deep and find out what really is going on. Our staff is trained in providing due processes.”
Next, the principal determines if it is a transient or substantive threat.
A transient threat has little likelihood of becoming physically harmful to others or destructive to property. In this case, there is no substantive intention to carry out a threat. These threats are resolvable, with minimal risk to the person or school and require minimal staff intervention and/or consequences. Mr. Savoy said 60-75 percent of threats are transient, and most occur in grades prior to junior high.
On the other hand, a substantive threat suggests the intention and potential of producing physical harm and/or property destruction. Mr. Savoy said these threats tend to occur in the upper grades and make up to 30 percent of all threats.
Examples of substantive threats sometimes involve weapons, mental health issues and verbalization of being committed to carrying out the threat, he said.
“Transient threats are students making inappropriate comments to produce shock, institute fear, or making one appear to be tough by implying ‘I am going to hurt all of you,’” Mr. Savoy said.
If the threat is substantive, the principal contacts an executive director and others who will work through a worksheet to determine specific indicators. If they confirm there is a substantial threat, then a threat assessment team will be mobilized, and visit the school. On site, the team interviews students, parents, witnesses and completes teacher/staff questionnaires, as well as reviews records.
Mr. Savoy said that at the conclusion of the full assessment, recommendations will be made.
The process can take a few days, but there are times when more urgency is needed and even law enforcement must get involved, he said.
“There have been a couple instances when the police have had contact with us because they became aware of a threat. Someone in the community contacted the police department,” he said. “Sometimes we have a situation at the school and we need to call the police right away, and students have been taken into custody right at that point because the determination is that it is a substantial threat right away.”
The district has relationships with the Glendale and Peoria police departments to ensure safety procedures are in place and are met with their approval and expertise. These police departments provide School Resource Officers on all seven high school campuses. SROs establish relationships at their respective feeder elementary schools and both Glendale and Peoria police departments increase patrol in the immediate area at a school site, should they require it, as in the case of some substantive threats, which tend to happen in clusters — four of the five substantive threats this school year happened within two weeks of each other.
Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said he could not speak to this trend, but said he believes some students are seeking attention without knowing the consequences.
“We work with the school to educate students about the seriousness of making a threat and the consequences they may face if caught,” he said.
When it comes to school threats, PUSD Deputy Superintendent Steve Savoy said the district always wants to figure out the root cause and find out how to help.
“I can tell you in a couple instances, there is no doubt in my mind we have saved young people by working with their family and accessing mental health services in an in-patient service right away,” he said.
The following are documented substantive threats, 2013 to October 2018.
October 2018: 5