Former superintendent Randy Weseman is convinced principles of threat assessment developed by the U.S. Secret Service ought to be the standard for analyzing potentially dangerous situations in Kansas school buildings.
He champions use of multidisciplinary teams in each building to conduct a step-by-step evaluation of a student's threatening behavior. School administrators, teachers, mental health and law enforcement officers working collaboratively would uncover facts indicating whether a threat was likely to be carried out.
Identifying conflict-inspiring threats requires development of a school climate that allows for timely communication. The vast majority of students planning to bring violence into a school tell someone, Weseman said during a recording for the Capitol Insider podcast.
"Schools are little communities. There is a network of communication in that building," said Weseman, assistant executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards and a former superintendent in the Lawrence and Tonganoxie districts.
"We want to cultivate and nurture that kind of reporting. We want to break the code of silence that exists in a lot schools," he said.
Communities nationwide remain horrified by mass school shootings that include Parkland, Fla., and Sante Fe, N.M., in 2018; Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012; an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pa. in 2006; Red Lake, Minn., in 2005 and Columbine High School in 1999.
These highly publicized shootings, which left more than 75 dead, compelled local education boards across the country to invest in secure doors, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and armed guards. Kansas and other states mandated lock-down drills in schools. Some districts turned to ballistic glass doors and facial recognition systems.
These technical solutions draw wide support, but the expenditures also drain resources from academic programs and may not address root causes of violence.
"School safety is on everyone's mind," Weseman said. "What's really happening is they're looking for quick solutions."
He said behavioral changes that produce a positive school climate should be foundational to a school's response to safety threats. He said the Secret Service concluded 90% of students who engaged in violence developed a plan of attack. In addition, he said, 4 of every 5 planners told somebody their ideas.
"If you want to find out what's going on in your school, you listen to your kids," Weseman said. "The better the climate, the better the communication. The better the assessment, the better the intervention."
He's an adherent of Comprehensive Student Treat Assessment Guidelines, or CSTAG. It's a research-based model designed for schools tied to controlled studies comparing schools using CSTAG to schools that didn't.
Research showed schools relying on CSTAG reported fewer than 1% of students carried out their threats, Weseman said. He said fewer than 2% of students were expelled or faced legal action in CSTAG schools. Staff reported lower anxiety and teachers had a higher opinion of school safety. More students sought help, he said.