De Pere school board talks threats
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – The De Pere School Board got some insight into duties involved in teaching that may not be obvious at its meeting Monday Oct. 7.
Jerry Nicholson, director of pupil services, reported on the Wisconsin Threat Assessment, which teachers have to complete whenever they get a report of a student behaving in a way that could be interpreted as threatening.
The board got to see and read the 36-page assessment, which involves interviewing the student, the student’s parents, the target of the student’s threat, and friends or associates of the student, as well as a questionnaire for the teacher to fill out about their knowledge of the student.
Most of the questions require written responses, and many questions have questions within the questions.
“We want to provide a safe environment for kids, but also a welcoming environment,” Nicholson said.
An electronic version of the assessment became available in late August, so now teachers can fill out the questions via keyboard rather than longhand.
“We jumped right in,” Nicholson said.
In 2017, with Act 143, the Wisconsin Department of Justice formed the Office of School Safety.
The DOJ also put $100 million into a school safety grant program.
Schools which accept grant money for instituting safety measures, such as lighting, programming, bulletproof glass, etc., are mandated to report any troubling behavior observed in students.
The FBI’s definition of threat is “an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something. A threat can be spoken, written, or symbolic.”
According to the Wisconsin Office of School Safety, “behavior such as making a threat, carrying a weapon, fighting or menacing actions should be investigated to determine whether a threat is present.”
“It’s not about moving kids out of the system; it’s about identifying the level of risk,” and dealing with it accordingly, Nicholson said.
The goal of the assessment is to determine the severity of the threat, from low to high.
Low-risk threats would be vague, not realistic and unlikely to be carried out.
Medium-risk threats would be more concrete, with some evidence of planning but no preparation.
High-risk threats would be specific, plausible and steps in preparation would be outlined or begun.
One part of the Wisconsin Threat Assessment is a three-page, 23-question interview of the parents, which includes questions about whether the child has access to firearms, exhibits an interest in fire or explosions, has a space in which parents are prohibited, does drugs, or has been suicidal, among other topics.
Another part of the assessment is an interview of the student, which includes questions about whether they’re interested in serial killers, school shooters and mass violence; what they meant by the words or actions in question; what made them say or do it; how they typically solve a problem and what they do when they’re angry or frustrated.
Instructions for teachers say it’s extremely important to build rapport with those they’re interviewing and this may make interviews take more time, but that this step “should not be skipped over.”
Some other parts of the assessment include:
• Interviewing friends of the student, witnesses, and the target of the threat;
• A report on the threat itself (whether it was verbal, electronic, physical, etc.);
• Filling out an inventory of protective factors the student has (such as family support, academic achievement, positive connections to the community, etc.);
• Filling out an inventory of the student’s risk factors (such as a history of self injury, anger, criminal acts, preoccupation with violence, etc.); and
• Writing a detailed description of the case resolution, plan of support, and the follow-up or revision of the plan.
Board member Bob Mathews asked how often these assessments need to be filled out.
Nicholson said because the program is still new, they’ll probably tend to treat all threats as real threats.
“We’re learning to use this, and the families are learning with us,” Nicholson said.