New law creates teams to prevent violence at schools
Panels are to ensure warning signs aren’t missed
STATE HOUSE – A new law sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Hanna M. Gallo will increase school safety by creating threat assessment teams in schools to serve as the “boots on the ground” in identifying potentially threatening behavior by those in the school community.
Under the legislation (2019-H 5538, 2019-S 0818), which was passed by the General Assembly in June and took effect immediately upon being signed by the governor July 15, school districts must also adopt policies for assessment and intervention, including procedures for referrals to community services or health care providers for evaluation.
The legislation was a recommendation of the School Safety Committee, a panel led by the State Police to develop statewide policy for school safety. Speaker Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) met with the State Police over the course of last summer to discuss legislative efforts that could help prevent violence in schools such as the mass shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year.
“So many times after a tragedy, members of the school community say there were so many warning signs from the eventual perpetrator of the violence. Then people are puzzled about how those signs could possibly be missed, to such devastating effect,” said Speaker Mattiello. “Many times, it’s because of segmented administrative structures that don’t result in anyone in charge recognizing multiple warning signs from a single person. There have to be people at every school — people who are part of that school’s fabric, who know the students, the staff, the parents and the structures — whose job it is to collect that information and decide what to do with it. Everyone at that school needs to know who to tell if they see concerning behavior, so they can help keep schools safe, and connect troubled individuals to help so they don’t become the next perpetrator of violence at school.”
Under the new law, every district school committee is required to adopt a written policy for the establishment of threat assessment teams, and for assessment and intervention with individuals whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students. The policies, which must be consistent with a model policy the statewide School Safety Committee has recommended, shall include procedures for referrals to community services or health care providers for evaluation or treatment when appropriate.
Each district superintendent must establish for each school a threat assessment team with expertise in guidance, counseling, school administration, mental health and law enforcement. The team will be in charge of implementing the district safety policy. It will also provide guidance to students, faculty, and staff in recognizing threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a threat to the community, school, or the individual, and ensure that everyone at the school knows who to tell if they recognize such behavior. If there is reason to believe someone in the school poses a threat of violence to others or himself or herself, the team would immediately pass information on for action: to the superintendent or other designated administrator, and to the school building administrator, who would be in charge of contacting parents or guardians in the case of a student. Members of the team are prohibited from disclosing any information regarding any individual collected through the course of the team’s work, except for the purpose of addressing the threat.
The superintendent must also establish a district committee with similar expertise to oversee the school-level teams.
The bill is modeled after a Virginia law. Similar models have been adopted in Maryland, Florida and other states since the Parkland massacre.
“This effort will help prevent violence before it happens, and it will also serve as a means to connect people who are experiencing trouble with the help they need. Having dedicated groups within each school who know the students, the faculty, the staff and the parents will help identify concerns early as a means of both prevention and intervention. Their work can keep schools safe and allow the focus to stay on learning,” said Chairwoman Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick).
The House bill was cosponsored by Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket), Rep. Mario Mendez (D-Dist. 13, Johnston, Providence), Rep. Joe Serodio (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) and Rep. Thomas Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick). The Senate bill was cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket).
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903