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By Dr. Harry Tennant

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Create a process, then stick to it!

Consider the case of Joshua Henry (true story, not his real name.)

A conversation was overheard in the library. The librarian was alarmed that Joshua used the nickname Shooter. He also seemed to have an unusual interest in violence and seemed like the shooter "type," wearing a long duster jacket and being a loner. The librarian was concerned and notified an assistant principal. The AP immediately followed up and opened an inquiry.

Police were sent with a warrant to search Joshua's house. Secured guns were found in the house and removed (with the owner’s consent). However, the Threat Level was increased, not decreased. The excuse for increasing the threat level was to enable the school to offer Joshua a greater range of interventions. But in fact, no interventions were ever offered to Joshua. His backpack and locker were subjected to random searches over the next few weeks. A pair of rounded end scissors was found in his backpack and confiscated, probably a less lethal weapon than a pencil.

Joshua was highly stressed by the episode and searches and dropped out of school. This is not what a threat assessment is for.

The case should not have been handled this way.

The most obvious aspect of this case was there was no evidence of intent to commit violence. No target, no plan, no steps taken. The assistant principal should have started his inquiry by talking to the boys whose conversation was overheard. They would have said they did not say that Joshua called himself Shooter. The librarian later admitted that she may have misheard.

The boys in the library were never interviewed by the AP and the misunderstanding was never discovered. The dubious profile of a shooter consisting of a loner wearing a duster was taken as significant rather than irrelevant. 

It is important to define threat level criteria and process steps to take when a threat level is assigned. But then the process must be followed. Stories and facts must be checked. Some judgement must be applied to answer the question, does this make sense? And most important, we must remember that a few personality traits or teen fashion choices do not predict a violent attack. We are looking for evidence of a plan and preparation for violence.

Keep in mind when conducting a threat assessment that we want to protect children in two ways. We obviously want to protect them from the unlikely but terribly tragic possibility of serious school violence. At the same time, we want to protect students from undisciplined investigations and unjustified accusations. An organized process helps in both ways.

So, this school had a process in place to follow in case of a potential threat of violence. The one problem? They didn't follow it. They immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had an imminent shooting incident on their hands and didn't take the most obvious first step of talking to the sources. And there was some real harm done: to Joshua who was guilty of nothing.

In School Safety Manager we're senstive to the risk of false positive errors like that made in Joshua's case. We articulate processes to follow but are aware that with a product that isn't used every day, processes may be forgotten. For that reason, the processes are front-and-center, hard to miss. They're presented as ordered checklists to discourage people from skipping important steps. Our product is designed to help prevent incidents of school violence and, at the same time, we've given attention to preventing false and stressful accusations of innocent students.


Edclick's School Safety Manager helps identify kids in distress and provide support.

Posted at 12:00 AM Keywords: School Safety Manager , prevention , school violence 0 Comments

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