New law attempts to intervene with troubled students earlier




A day after the tragic mass shooting on May 24th that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers at the Uvalde elementary school in Uvalde, legislators from New Jersey went to work crafting a bill that would hopefully prevent a similar situation from occurring within the Garden State.

On Aug. 1 the bipartisan bill was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, requiring all New Jersey schools beginning in September, to develop “threat assessment teams.”

The new law requires the Board of Education and each school district under its purview, along with leaders at charter and private schools, within the state to develop a comprehensive threat assessment team, within their respective schools.

Mass School Shootings

The assessment teams will be tasked with identifying troubled students along with those that may be prone towards violence or harmful activities. The teams will also develop intervention strategies to hopefully recognize and circumvent any potential situation that may escalate into violence.

By providing teachers, administrators, and other staff members with assistance in identifying those students at risk, backers of the bill offered is the best avenues to diffuse a possible harmful situation before escalating into violence.“Keeping public spaces safe from any form of violence or harmful activities, especially in our schools, is of the utmost importance to me and this administration,” said Murphy in a press statement. “It is my hope that these threat assessment teams will help students and school employees feel safe and out of harm’s way when they are at school, and for students who are considered to be a threat to receive the much-needed help they need at such a crucial time in their lives.”

The bill designates the New Jersey Department of Education to spearhead the drive-in coordination with both state law enforcement agencies and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

Threat Assessment Teams

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, Acting Commissioner of Education weighed in that no one better understands the vulnerabilities of New Jersey’s school communities than those who work there every day, including teachers, administrators, school counselors, school safety specialists, and resource officers.

“Creating comprehensive threat assessment teams, comprised of these individuals, ensure increased awareness of at-risk behaviors and inform strategic intervention for those behaviors that may pose a safety risk,” said Allen-McMillan. “The establishment of threat assessment teams will result in safer school environments.”

New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Laurie Doran responded to the new law stating, “We are not only first responders, but we are also first presenters.”

“The establishment of threat assessment teams in public schools will equip these communities with the resources they need to prevent violence and help ensure the safety of students and educators,” said Doran. “NJOHSP continues to prioritize school security efforts with our law enforcement partners and the New Jersey Department of Education.”

Preventing School Violence

The threat assessment team will include members within a variety of disciplines including:

  1. A school psychologist, counselor, school social worker, or other professional staff members with expertise in student counseling.
  2. A teaching staff member.
  3. An administrator or school principal.
  4. A resource officer or a staff member with direct access to law enforcement, along with a designated school safety specialist.

“In recent history, we have seen far too many tragic events, resulting in the loss of innocent lives,” said State Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29). “Equipping adults with the tools necessary to identify students as a potential threat can enhance the ability of our districts and schools to help identify any risks before an act of violence occurs…We must take all necessary measures, including the provision of mental health supports, services, and resources, to prevent these tragedies from happening.”

Safety and Security Training

Assembly Education Committee Chair Pamela Lampitt (D-6), along with Assemblyman Bill Moen (D-5), sponsored and spearheaded the bill in May, the day after the carnage in Uvalde.

“We really need to determine and have the right people around the table to have a conversation,” said Lampitt. “I really, truly believe that if we focus on the students that actually are having a crisis, and are acting out, and through the crisis and acting out they are causing problems, they are disrupting other students’ school or play.”

The new legislation establishes guidelines for assessment teams to not publicly disclose any information that may negatively impact a student beyond the team’s initial concern; however, the teams should immediately report those concerns to law enforcement.

Members of the teams will undergo training as prescribed by a 2017 law requiring every school to have one staff member trained in safety and security procedures and acting as a liaison to the police and law enforcement. The law requires members to be trained in “childhood trauma, implicit bias, and adverse childhood experiences.”