By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON – The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union is taking “See something, say something” to the next level in handling student threats to schools and classmates.
That’s good news for parents concerned about procedure and school officials who can’t share specific information due to privacy policies.
In January, schools across the district will be rolling out a new threat assessment preparedness program called PREPaRE.
It is a national, team-based risk and threat assessment program that RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said allows school officials to be more preemptive in addressing threats district-wide.
“This protocol is not a student intervention protocol, it’s a risk assessment protocol,” she said. “It elevates us above the gut response level and elevates us to a team-based response.”
District-wide team effort
District psychologist Kate Milliman attended a PREPaRE training in the fall that taught her how to train others in the program and has been developing a threat assessment team with representatives from every school in the district.
“Throughout the fall, Kate led a supervisory union-wide threat assessment team in developing protocols and training on risk assessment,” Collins said. “The team can be pulled in anytime a threat needs a deeper look, whether it’s self-harm, threats against another student or a school-wide threat.”
Milliman has also trained Fair Haven school district officials. Fair Haven High School was the target of Vermont’s most serious school shooting threat to date in February 2018 when police and school officials were notified of an alleged plot by Poultney teenager Jack Sawyer, then 18, to carry out a mass shooting at the school detailed in a notebook. Sawyer had also purchased a 12-gauge shotgun. An acquaintance alerted police after receiving disturbing text messages from Sawyer and he was arrested before the plot could be carried out. Sawyer told police he had been planning the shooting for two years.
The PREPaRE model hinges on the formation of a school safety and crisis team comprised of administrators, educators, school resource officers and school mental health professionals who work together in assessing:
P—Prevent and PREPaRE for psychological trauma
R—Reaffirm physical health and perceptions of security and safety
E—Evaluate psychological trauma risk
R—Respond to psychological needs
E—Examine the effectiveness of crisis prevention and intervention
The program was developed with information from the U.S. Department of Education and
Homeland Security. Specifically, the PREPaRE Crisis Curriculum addresses crisis team activities as occurring during the five stages of a crisis: prevention, mitigation, protection, response, and recovery. It also uses the U.S. Department of Education Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools guidance, and the Department of Homeland Security Incident Command System as outlined by the National Incident Management System.
Another tool in the tool box
The PREPaRE program is not intended to replace the threat response policies currently in place, hence the risk assessment versus student intervention protocols. They are separate but equal. Collins said school lock- down and response protocols are still active, and the “See something, say something” mantra is always encouraged.
“We really count on partnering with kids and parents to hear when threats are being made to activate our response system,” she said.
That give and take of information is what led to this story. A parent called The Reporter asking if an article could be done regarding a recent series of threats made on a bus by two Otter Valley Union High School students earlier this month, who reported it to school officials. The parent said threats were made against other children and African-Americans on the bus, including a threat to kill people on the last day of school.
The parent’s son heard the alleged threats while riding the bus and told his mother. A re- port was led with OV administration and an investigation was launched. According to the parent, the students were banned from riding the bus until after the Christmas break but were still attending school regularly. The parent stated that they and other parents were concerned that more was not being done to address the issue.
Collins said the disconnect is that privacy policies prevent school officials from sharing any information regarding discipline of students with parents or anyone other than the student and the family involved.
“They wouldn’t know what’s being done,” Collins said. “Kids can still make bad choices and say things they don’t mean in the moment, but school safety is of increasing concern.”