School threat assessment toolkit now available to schools for violence prevention

March 8, 2024
Written By:
Kate Williams, U-M Office of the Vice President for Research

University of Michigan, University of Virginia partner on effort to keep schools safe

Concept illustration of students in a school hallway. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with Midjourney

A new toolkit designed to support U.S. schools’ violence prevention efforts has been published by the National Center for School Safety at the University of Michigan.

The toolkit is designed to help schools in their efforts to implement evidence-based methods to assess and respond to threats, prevent problem situations from escalating and avoid overreacting to threats that are not serious, all while protecting students’ rights.

Co-developed by University of Virginia professors Dewey Cornell and Jennifer Maeng, the toolkit features an emphasis on ensuring threat assessment protocols are implemented fairly and equitably for students of marginalized groups, especially students of color and students with disabilities.

The UVA professors collaborated with and received guidance from the National Center for School Safety, which is housed within U-M’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and serves as the Bureau of Justice Assistance Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence National Training and Technical Assistance Center.

“Following the example set in Virginia, more and more states are requiring schools to use a violence prevention strategy called behavioral threat assessment,” said Cornell, UVA professor of education. “More than 60% of U.S. schools now report having a threat assessment team. The massive increase in threat assessment teams has created a need for national standards of practice.

“This toolkit, informed by more than 200 national experts in threat assessment, will provide practical guidance for effective training, implementation and evaluation of threat assessment teams.”

UVA is a partner institution of the NCSS, which supports schools, districts, mental health agencies, police departments, community-based organizations, and state, local, and tribal agencies across the country to implement evidence-based school safety programs.

“Our guide helps schools consider who should be on their threat assessment team, how often they should meet, and what should be covered in those meetings,” said Maeng, UVA research associate professor of education. “It also includes recommended steps for evaluating the effectiveness of threat assessment teams and making sure it has fair and equitable outcomes across student groups.”

Research conducted by Cornell and Maeng in Virginia and Florida schools demonstrate the success of a well-implemented threat assessment program in reducing or eliminating disparities in disciplinary and law enforcement outcomes associated with race and disability status.

“We are proud to partner with fellow institutions and colleagues working in this critical space,” said NCSS co-director Justin Heinze, U-M associate professor of health behavior and health education.

“Improving school safety and preventing school violence requires a multidisciplinary approach, and the NCSS is focused on providing comprehensive and accessible support to STOP grantees and the nationwide school safety community to address today’s school safety challenges. This toolkit is a great example of the work that can be done when we work together.”