Reject "Behavioral Threat Assessments" in Our Schools

A version of this was shared as a press release on March 16, 2023 by the Vermont Police Out of Schools Coalition.

Coalition Strongly Opposes Legislative Proposal for “Threat Assessments” of Vermont Students 

Includes no guidelines, due process or privacy protections, requires police participation; likely to cause disproportionate harm to children from low-income households, children from BIPOC communities, and children with disabilities. 

Montpelier, VT — The Vermont Police Out of Schools Coalition is raising alarm over a Scott administration proposal now in the Senate Education Committee that would mandate “behavioral threat assessment teams” in all Vermont schools, and would explicitly require the inclusion of police officials on those teams. If passed into law, “threat assessments” could be conducted on Vermont students of any age with no due process or privacy protections, or other guidelines, despite many known problems with such assessments. 

Mia Schultz, Statewide Education Justice Organizer, Rights and Democracy: “We all want safe schools, and we have policies and procedures in place to ensure our kids are safe. We can be so much smarter about advancing our shared goal of school safety—not by treating our kids as threats, but by supporting investments in Vermont schools and communities. That must include investing resources to address a mental health crisis that has worsened in recent years, rather than trying to import ‘tough on crime’ strategies into our schools.” 

Vermont already has a long and well-documented history of disproportionately suspending and disciplining students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities, and has done little to address widespread and well-documented bullying and harassment of students from those groups. Advocates are concerned that this initiative would represent a major step backwards on Vermont’s stated commitment to advancing equity and inclusion and combating systemic racism. 

Amanda Lucía Garcés, Director of Policy, Education, and Outreach, Vermont Human Rights Commission: “Given how problematic ‘threat assessment teams’ are known to be, the legislature should prohibit them and focus its attention on existing frameworks for supporting students, teachers, and schools with the resources and programs they need to thrive. The Scott administration should recognize that Vermont communities want to invest in their kids and their schools, we don’t want to criminalize them or compound the challenges they are already facing.” 

Proposals for “behavioral threat assessment teams” are being advanced by the Agency of Education and the Department of Public Safety’s School Safety Center. Those agencies commissioned and submitted to the Senate Education Committee “A Guide for Assessing & Managing Threats and Other Troubling Behavior that Impact the Safety of K-12 Schools,” by “SIGMA, an Ontic Company.” That document specifies that threat assessment teams “typically include” an armed school police officer who may assist with “critical data collection, particularly social media,” “conducting interviews of subjects, targets, witnesses, teachers, staff, parents, and students,” and “independent criminal investigations, as needed and appropriate,” among other responsibilities. The Executive Director of Threat Management at Ontic, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, spent a decade with the U.S. Secret Service as their chief research psychologist. 

The many problems associated with armed police in school settings—including the impact on marginalized and vulnerable students, which have also been well-documented—are not included in the guide. 

Indi Schoenherr, Policy Advocate, ACLU of Vermont: “Just a few years ago, state leaders committed to advancing equity and combating systemic racism in our state. Given all that we know about continuing racial injustices in our schools and in Vermont as a whole, and how little we have done to remedy them, this proposal—which would compound those injustices and harm marginalized students further—is both troubling and deeply disappointing.” 

In testimony before the Senate Education Committee, Rachel Seelig, Director of the Disability Law Project at Vermont Legal Aid, cited research showing problems with “behavioral threat assessment teams,” including lack of clarity on best practices and insufficient training, resulting in due process violations and disparities based on race, special education classification, and mental illness. “Threat assessments” of children are known to have other negative consequences, including ostracization from community, school anxiety and feelings of isolation and rejection – all of which can further compound the mental health strains many students are already experiencing. Seelig noted that Board of Education Rules already allow removal of students who pose an immediate threat, though these rules are not applied consistently. 

Rachel Seelig, Director of the Disability Law Project, Vermont Legal Aid: “Our kids aren’t ‘threats’ to be assessed. They are children who need to be supported. This proposal would impose a law enforcement outlook on Vermont schools and treat certain students as threatening, rather than an integral part of the school community who need protection and support. Such an approach adds nothing to existing safety measures already in place, and is all but certain to harm our most vulnerable and historically marginalized children. We hope legislators will reject this misguided proposal and support our kids, families, and communities with the investments they need to thrive.” 

The Vermont Police Out of Schools Coalition includes Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Human Rights Commission, Outright Vermont, Neighbors for a Safer St. Albans, Rights and Democracy, The Root Social Justice Center,  ACLU of Vermont, Rutland County NAACP, and The Education Justice Coalition of Vermont. 

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