Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Grand jury report assesses threats of violence to Santa Cruz County schools

SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County school leaders must do more to ensure response and communication during a threat of violence, according to a report by the Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury.
The June 13 report states that threat assessment plans, response teams, communication plans and training must be consistent across all campuses.
In addition, the report states that schools do not know how to interact with law enforcement during a threat incident.
Most notably, school districts are reluctant to exchange information with law enforcement or other agencies because of concerns of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, according to the report.
“The report recommends that school districts acquire more understanding regarding what types of information law enforcement is privy to and what they are allowed to request,” said civil grand jury foreman Rocco Chappie.
The release of student information, especially as it relates to FERPA, has been a delicate subject for county school districts in the wake of increased U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity.
The school threat assessment report was written as a response to a spate of local and national events, including a March 2016 incident where an Aptos High student made online threats against other students.
The response to that situation revealed poor coordination between the school and local law enforcement and a failure of timely and comprehensive communication to the school community, according to the civil grand jury.
To discover whether the lack of coordination was isolated to PVUSD or was a more widespread issue, the civil grand jury assessed schools countywide.
After referencing numerous reports and publications, including the California Education Code, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s Emergency Response Management Plan and an FBI report on school shooters, the civil grand jury examined the preparedness of the county’s school districts through interviews and questionnaires.
The civil grand jury then looked at the readiness of the county’s law enforcement agencies to work in concert with the school districts in assessing threats using the same process,
A survey of the five county law enforcement agencies revealed that all but one had personnel trained as school resource officers assigned to assist schools or trained in assessing threats of targeted school violence.
The report recommends that these school resource officers, which serve as campus law enforcement, should be made more widely available.
To identify, assess and manage individuals who might pose threats of targeted school violence, a threat assessment effort must build relationships among “boundary spanners” — individuals and organizations both within the school and external to the school.
The report recommends that the sheriff’s office and the County Superintendent of Schools should act as boundary spanners.
SOME Recommendations
• The County Superintendent of Schools should advocate school districts inform parents and guardians on how and when they will be contacted in the event of a threat.
• The County Office of Education and the sheriff’s office should advocate that the threat assessment plan for each school district has a written agreement with law enforcement in which restricted information may be exchanged during the investigation of a threat.
• The County Office of Education and the sheriff’s office should collaborate to develop a plan in which all school districts are prepared and capable of assessing a threat of targeted school violence.
• The sheriff’s office and chiefs of police should ensure a law enforcement representative, preferably a school resource officer, be made available to school districts drafting or revising a threat assessment plan.
June 13, 2017
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Ryan Masters

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