The Cherry Hill school district’s director of security discussed training he’s undergone regarding the School Threat Assessment Teams policy introduced at the July 11 board of education meeting.
“Some time ago, Gov. (Phil) Murphy signed a bill about behavioral threat assessment and monitoring in the schools to be implemented by September of this school year,” Anthony Saporito said, offering clarity on what the policy means for students.
“That’s a little ‘pie in the sky’,” he added. “It’s probably not going to happen in September for a couple of reasons.”
The phrasing of guidance is still being worked out at the state level, but once that happens, the hope is for policy implementation. Saporito shared meeting notes from a Secret Service- sponsored event where that agency went over its eight-step violence prevention plan, available for viewing at the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center website.
“This is not a substitute for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting,” Saporito explained of the School Threat Assessment Teams policy. “This is not a substitute for discipline. This is not a substitute for regular security in the school. This isn’t for when a kid gets hit in the face during kickball and says, ‘I’m going to kill you!’ to the other kid. That’s kids being kids.
“This (policy) is geared towards legitimate threats that have basis to them … and there is a whole list of actionable items that people who have committed violent acts in school have gone through from the ground level of, ‘I think I might do it’ to actually planning, buying, practicing, surveilling, It goes all the way through all these steps.”
The policy includes establishing a multidisciplinary threat assessment team; defining concerning and prohibited behaviors; creating a central reporting mechanism; establishing assessment procedures; developing risk management options; creating and promoting safe school climates; and conducting training for all stakeholders, according to the guide, Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model, on the Secret Service website.
Prior to implementation, Saporito noted, the plan is to make a presentation to the public that will include the Department of Education and the Secret Service.
“This needs to be done correctly,” he pointed out.
The board of ed also revisited the issue of a consistent public comment section for students at the beginning of meetings, so they can participate without having to sit through hours of presentations. They are currently permitted to speak during the first public comment section and are given priority when recognized as students.
But the timing of that public comment can be anywhere from the first 10 minutes of a meeting to more than an hour later, depending on the number of presentations.
“Most of the time, when students are giving public comments, it’s like middle- or high-school students, so I don’t worry too much about them staying up late and sitting through the meeting,” said board member Dr. Ben Rood.
“But what I do find problematic is the variability,” he added. “Sometimes, second public comment comes at 7:30, and sometimes it comes at 10 o’clock, and that lack of predictability is probably much harder than staying up.”
Ideas for student public comment include having an as-needed section, where students go to the high-school board of education representatives when they want to speak at meetings and have them communicate with the board when there are enough students to garner a student-only section in the beginning of a meeting.
No decision was made, and the board tabled the discussion for another time.
During the board session’s second public comment on July 11, some parents of kids in the fifth grade at Bret Harte and Thomas Paine elementary schools again petitioned for the addition of a third comment section for the students to address the issue of large class sizes and the anxiety they produce.
In a brief update, Board President Miriam Stern announced a larger discussion on the superintendent search in September to hear stakeholder input. The board is still waiting for the county to approve Dr. Kwame Morton as acting superintendent. Assistant Superintendent LaCoyya Weathington is serving as the decision-maker.
The next board of education meeting will be on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Carusi Middle School.