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By David Nash, Esq., LEGAL ONE Director

Learning from the Past

Regrettably, this latest school shooting is not an isolated incident.  It is important to learn from prior experiences and the trends that have emerged.  For information on what we can learn from recent shootings and averted shootings, please review the 2019 report and 2021 report from the U.S. Secret Service.   One disturbing finding from the 2019 report, which examined school shootings and other acts of targeted violence that occurred between 2008 and 2017, was that “in two-thirds of the attacks, there was at least one communication by the attacker about his or her intent to attack, or another observed threatening behavior, to which there was not a response.”  The report indicates a wide range of reasons why students and staff failed to act, but the report should be a wake-up call that we need to ensure all stakeholders recognize the urgency to report such threats.

In reviewing these reports, it should be noted that, while there is no single profile of school attackers, a majority of the attackers were current or former students, had experienced bullying, were struggling with depression, and had experienced suicidal ideation.  One specific strategy that school districts should consider is the implementation of a dual risk and threat assessment protocol for students who are believed to be experiencing EITHER suicidal ideation or homicidal ideation.  Regarding suicidal ideation, the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale provides a research-based tool that staff can be trained to administer.  Regarding threat assessment, the National Threat Assessment Center provides research and resources that can assist schools in implementing sound, research based threat assessment protocols:  The Virginia Schools Threat Assessment Model is widely recognized as an exemplar for the nation.


Legal Considerations

Listed below are some key legal considerations that all school leaders should be aware of as we look to navigate through these difficult times and ensure the health and safety of all students.

  • Revisions to New Jersey’s School Security Drill law went into effect in January, 2022.
  • Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:16-6.3, every credible threat of serious or significant bodily injury must be reported to law enforcement.  In assessing credibility, the age and developmental level of the student, specificity of threat, access to lethal means and prior history of involved students are all relevant factors to consider. 
  • Every school district must ensure that they meet the NJDOE requirements for their school security plans, as provided in N.J.A.C. 6A:16-5.1.
  • New Jersey law – P.L. 2019, c. 479 (1/21/2020) – now requires a proactive meeting involving the school principal or designee, parent, and one other relevant school staff member (e.g., counselor, social worker, school psychologist, I & RS team member) whenever a student is suspended for a second or subsequent offense, to try and determine any potential underlying health issues or other issues that may be driving student behavior.  This meeting must take place as soon as possible, which means that a traditional reentry meeting will in many cases not meet this requirement.
  • Other recent revisions in school security law include:
    • P.L. 2019, c. 480 (1/21/2020) – Requires that all substitute teachers be trained on school security protocols.  Requires that non-school youth program providers receive information on school district or nonpublic school safety and security practices and procedures including non-confidential information on evacuation procedures, emergency response protocols, and emergency contact information. Covers programs before school, after school, while school is not in session. 
    • P.L. 2019, c. 33 (2/4/19) – (See NJDOE Alyssa’s Law Guidance) – requires public school buildings to be equipped with panic alarm linked to local law enforcement.
    • P.L. 2019, c. 106 (5/10/19) Requires boards of education and nonpublic schools to provide law enforcement authorities with copies of blueprints and maps of schools and school grounds. 

For more information regarding current legal requirements and available school law training, contact LEGAL ONE at legalone@njpsa.org .