Part 2: Behavioral Threat Assessments, Safety-Conscious Students Critical to School Violence Prevention
With behavioral threat assessments becoming the norm and the next generation of thought leaders focused on safety, Dr. Marisa Randazzo is optimistic about the future of school violence prevention.
In “Part 1: The State of Healthcare Workplace Violence, De-Escalation Techniques, and Policy Must-Haves,” Dr. Marisa Randazzo answers similar questions regarding hospital workplace violence prevention.
A March 2022 study from the American Psychological Association found that during the pandemic, rates of violence and aggression against K-12 school personnel were extremely high, with nearly half of the teachers surveyed indicating they plan to quit or transfer their jobs due to concerns over safety and climate.
Paraprofessionals, school counselors, instructional aides, and school resource officers (SROs) reported the highest rates of student physical violence (22%), while 18% of school psychologists and social workers, 15% of administrators, and 14% of teachers reported at least one violent incident by a student during the pandemic.
School violence has been compounded by massive teacher and school counselor shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 567,000 fewer educators in America’s public schools today than there were before the pandemic. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends at least one counselor for every 250 students. However, only two states met that criteria. Currently, the national average is 444 students per counselor.
The lack of school employees, particularly counselors and psychologists, also compounds growing mental health concerns among students. A 2023 youth data survey from Mental Health America found that 16.39% of youth ages 12-17 reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and 11.5% of youth are experiencing severe major depression. It also found that 59.8% of youth with major depression did not receive any mental health treatment.
Encouragingly, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, executive director of threat management at Ontic, which offers campus violence prevention training and tools, says there have been improvements (1:12).
“A lot of the [violence] was fueled by debates over masking requirements. As those requirements have receded, we have seen a reduction in some threatening behavior that schools and school employees are facing,” she told Campus Safety. “That being said, schools are absolutely facing [a lot of turnover]. For some, it was the Great Resignation. For others, it was the Great Migration, or switching around. They may have quit one school but stayed in education and gone to another school. For a number of educators, a simple change of scenery has been helpful, but there’s still been a lot of turnover.”
While much of the discussions surrounding school staff shortages focus on its impact on students, its impact on teachers is just as concerning. Plus, the current political climate isn’t helping.
“We work with so many schools around the country that still are understaffed because they haven’t gotten back up to full staffing with people quitting during the pandemic. All of that leads to a stressful work environment and so all of that leads to not only threats they may be getting from students but from parents,” said Randazzo. “There is employee vs. employee disagreement that turns to combative behavior but for school employees, the biggest concern typically is threats that may come from students but also with school board division and divisive topics, it has come from parents as well.”
Are School Violence Prevention Methods Working?
Although school violence is still concerningly high, Randazzo believes there will be a decrease as we start to return to more “normal” conditions, and as more schools work to recognize concerning behavior before it escalates to violence (18:08).
“We’re finally seeing the benefits of a couple of years of work because of all the federal funding. So many states now are really trying to implement behavioral threat assessment and violence prevention at a state level — whether it’s for looking at concerns coming from students or concerns coming about employee behavior. We’re seeing the benefits of all the infrastructure that’s been built at a state level and for schools across the country in a way we have never seen historically at all,” she said. “It is my truly optimistic view that we’re going to start to see targeted school violence incidents decrease and we’re going to hear much more about the wins that schools are having — the averted school attacks. So much of what we do to prevent violence centers around how to support someone who is struggling. The more we can do to actually support that person and help them solve those underlying problems, the more violence we can prevent.”
As the overall threat landscape evolves and physical safety continues to be a top priority for nearly all industries, Randazzo also says the upside is that the next generation of thought leaders will have the importance of safety and security engrained in them (6:08).
“One thing I’m seeing that I find fascinating is that high school students and college students these days are savvy consumers of security information, I think in large part because they have grown up in this post-Columbine era. They’ve grown up with active shooter drills, lockdowns, and knowing about school shootings and hearing about them on the news,” she said. “We now see students coming into colleges and universities for the first time asking, ‘Well, where do I report a threat? What active shooter training procedures do we have in place? Are we going to do a lockdown drill?’ They are used to having it and they need to know what to do in certain situations. It’s fascinating to see the level of knowledge they are bringing into educational settings. This is a real sign of culture change. It’s going to be fascinating to see where those students now go on to leadership positions. I could see them actively promoting a culture of safety, wherever they end up working.”
During our interview, Randazzo also shared:
- Overall thoughts on the most effective ways to address violence in schools (3:14)
- What school employees can do to de-escalate concerning behavior (10:25)
- Free de-escalation resources for violence prevention in schools (12:19)
- What technologies and tools are available to support school employees in combatting violence (12:39)
- Must-haves in school violence prevention policies and procedures (15:16)
If you missed “Part 1: The State of Healthcare Workplace Violence, De-Escalation Techniques, and Policy Must-Haves,” Dr. Marissa Randazzo answers similar questions regarding hospital workplace violence prevention.
As Executive Director of Threat Management at Ontic, Dr. Marisa Randazzo provides strategic consulting, program development, and training services in behavioral threat assessment, threat management, and violence prevention for safety and security professionals at major corporations, educational institutions, and government agencies. Prior to Ontic, Dr. Randazzo was the Chief Executive Officer and founder of SIGMA Threat Management Associates LLC, acquired by Ontic in September 2021.
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