Addressing threatening behavior at Texas schools

HOUSTON – While much of the discussion about school safety has recently revolved around putting armed security on every campus and increasing police training, there is less highlighted work being done on campuses across the state to spot potential problems before they spiral into violent behavior.

Following the mass murders at Santa Fe High School, state legislators passed a law requiring school districts to conduct threat assessments on potentially violent students.

The teams conducting these assessments are called Safe and Supportive School Program teams. School districts are also required to report the work being done by these teams to the Texas Education Agency. KPRC 2 Investigates received a TEA database involving threat assessments during the last school year.

According to TEA data, 80,464 threats were reported to SSSP teams with 37% involving reports of threats to others, 39% involving threats of self-harm and 17% involving immediate safety concerns. Federal privacy laws prohibit any information being released that could potentially identify a student.

“Students want to feel safe, staff members want to feel safe and the way to do that is to ensure that people that when they see concerning behavior to report that,” said Celina Bley, Associate Director of Training and Education at the Texas School Safety Center. “We want to catch that as early as possible so that we can get that student off any pathway to violence of harm to others and even harm to themselves.”

Bley explained when an SSSP team receives a report of threatening behavior, members then gather as much information as possible about a student to determine what type of intervention may be needed.

“It’s a preventative measure to look at behaviors before they escalate into something very serious,” said Bley.

The state’s data showed while 17% of reported threats involved immediate safety concerns, only 8% of the cases required police action. TEA data showed that 34% involved counseling and mental health support.

TEA data shows there are 64,512 SSSP team members across Texas, with 30% still lacking the state-required seven-hour training course provided by the School Safety Center. Bley said this is due to staff turnover in many districts.

President of the Texas American Federation of Teachers Chapter Zeph Capo blames the state for not doing more to retain veteran educators.

“Very little was done to focus on retaining the current teachers that we have and that has unintended consequences and this is exactly one of them,” said Capo.

Capo said retaining employees who’ve gone through this training is vital because it adds another layer of protection for students.

“How do we make sure we have more eyes, how do we make sure those eyes are better trained to observe and see things that could be issues?” said Capo.

After the mass murders in Uvalde, legislators passed other laws specific to this effort. While House Bill 3 requires a host of new security measures, it also requires school districts to develop procedures as to how students can report potential problems. A lot of districts already do this, but House Bill 3 now makes it a law for districts to create these specific procedures and then make sure kids know how to report potential problems.

House Bill 473 now requires school districts to notify parents before starting threat assessments. Bley said this law is not seeking permission, just notification. Bley said parents were always contacted as part of the threat assessment process, but the notification now comes at the very beginning. Bley said parental input was always sought as part of the threat assessment process, but HB 473 now ensures parents have a chance to submit information to these teams that may explain a child’s behavior.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”