Jennifer Crumbley leaves the courtroom after a jury found her...

Jennifer Crumbley leaves the courtroom after a jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter on all counts after her trial in Pontiac, Michigan. Her son, Ethan Crumbley, a teenager was accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, Credit: AP/Daniel Mears

Last month, a Michigan jury returned a historic verdict in a case involving a 2021 school shooting in which four students were killed at Oxford High School. The jury found the mother of the shooter guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter. In part, this was a message regarding responsible gun ownership and parental supervision.

But the case — like the 2018 tragedy in Parkland, Florida where a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — also showed that school districts play a vital role in identifying students who are on a pathway to targeted violence. They can do this through a process called behavioral threat assessment and management.

At its core, this is an early detection system in which a multidisciplinary team of school personnel, law enforcement, and mental health staff help identify relevant warning behaviors exhibited by students to prevent targeted violence. These warning behaviors include fixating on a particular violent cause, sharing with others plans to carry out an attack, and acquiring weapons. The behaviors are identified and dealt with by the behavioral threat assessment and management team to ensure the safety of all. While school shooters are a heterogeneous group, this approach recognizes that school shooters share the common thread that their acts are planned and prepared for way in advance. School shooters do not just suddenly snap.

The behavioral threat assessment and management process analyzes the warning behaviors, coordinating with the district's existing security measures to mitigate the risk for violence. While working in collaboration with “target hardening,” the process primarily serves as the early warning detection system for a subject on the path to carry out a targeted attack.

Nearly 20 states have passed laws requiring school districts to have a districtwide behavioral threat assessment and management team for students of concern. New York is not one of those states, leaving the decision to individual school districts.

But school districts often think mental health or pupil services are equivalent to behavioral threat assessment and management. They are not. Behavioral threat assessment and management focuses on the presence of relevant signs (not diagnoses) that serve as the nexus to a potential attack. The primary goal is to de-escalate a student away from a path of violence. Mental health care is often part of the plan, but the primary goal is to reduce threats.

Several Nassau County school districts last year took the courageous step to develop such teams in the absence of statutory requirements. However, the vast majority have not. Explanations vary from “These types of kids do not attend school in our districts” to “We are educational settings and police handle such cases.” Some districts increase security, but it is unrealistic to believe that security is enough. Sixty percent of school shootings end in 3 minutes or less, and the threat often comes from within the student body — as it did in Oxford and Parkland. An investigation into the Oxford shootings concluded that “had proper threat assessment guidelines been in place and District threat assessment policy followed, this tragedy was avoidable.”

As the father of two boys attending Nassau County public schools, I know it is our parental responsibility to advocate that Long Island school districts develop, train and implement a multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment and management model to ensure the safety of our children and staff.

This guest essay reflects the views of Kostas A. Katsavdakis, a licensed psychologist with a diplomate in forensic psychology who has more than 25 years of experience in conducting behavioral threat assessments.

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