Assessing school threats in wake of Parkland shooting

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - In the wake of the horrific events in Parkland, Florida, school administrators and staff across the country are engaged in internal discussions about how to ensure their school isn't the site of the next mass shooting.

"I believe that the safest place your child will be today is at school," said Dr. Mark Manchin, superintendent of Harrison County Schools.

Dr. Manchin sat down with 5 News just minutes before he entered a meeting about resources and mental health services in schools.

While maintaining that he believes the district has one of the best plans to assess threats in the state, he admitted that the role teachers and administrators play in students' lives has evolved.

"We have to address the ills that society brings," Dr. Manhcin said. "And many of them manifest themselves in our buildings."

The FBI classifies levels of threats as low, medium, and high. The lowest, for example, would be a vague and indirect threat that poses a minimum risk to society.

A high level of threat is one that appears to be direct, posing imminent and serious danger to others.

The FBI also advises educators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement agencies to adhere to a four-pronged model when assessing treats:

1) Personality of the student
2) Family dynamics
3) School dynamics and the student's role in those dynamics
4) Social dynamics.

The agency recommends that after a threat is assessed (i.e. determined to be vague or direct), educators and police should follow the model to "evaluate the likelihood that the threat will be carried out."

If the student in question appears to have problems in a majority of the four prongs--and the level threat is determined to be medium or high--the threat should be taken more seriously.

Dr. Manchin notes that while administrators take all threats seriously, the nature of threats has changed.

"Social media has changed the way of school safety," he said. "These individuals who intend to do harm put it on Facebook."

Harrison County Schools have a program in place that caters to students with disciplinary or emotional problems, offering options for alternative learning and counseling sessions.

Doddridge County Superintendent Adam Cheeseman said the FBI guidelines help inform their plans to assess threats.

"Prevention resource offices, counselors, and mental health specialists are trained to be aware of potential indicators, such as unusual behaviors, to thoroughly assess and investigate any possible threats reported," Cheeseman said.

Dr. Walter DeKeseredy, director of The Research Center on Violence at WVU, suggests that school administrators implement workshops to promote what he calls "healthy masculinity."

In the extended conversation above, Dr. DeKeseredy notes the "strong correlation" between threats to school shooters' masculinity and their mass killings, pointing to the Parkland gunman's history of inter-personal violence.