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Harford schools’ threat assessment teams to get more training to improve school safety

About 300 Harford County public school employees will be trained next month in threat assessment, part of ongoing efforts to improve school safety.

Five to six staff members from each school will be trained as part of their school’s threat assessment team, required to be in place by Sept. 1 by the Maryland Safe to Learn Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2018.

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The training and policy are formalization of what the teams — mostly student services staff — are already trained in so the school system complies with the Safe to Learn Act, said Buck Hennigan, executive director of student services.

“This is not new for us,” Hennigan told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Monday night. “We’ve had folks in schools responding to threats for a long time.”

The policy the board is considering defines what a threat is, how school staff should respond to a threat and what procedures should be followed in the event of a threat.

While the threat assessment training is separate from the Active Assailant Critical Response Training, or AACRT, school employees underwent on their first professional development day after school ended in June, it’s all done in concert when “you look at it in the grand scope of things,” Hennigan said.

AACRT, which follows the run-hide-fight national model, is being implemented across the school system, also as part of the Safe to Learn Act.

Superintendent Sean Bulson said earlier this year he expects staff to be trained by the end of 2019 and all students will be trained by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

AACRT trains staff in case of an event, “something imminent, in your face, what do you do,” Hennigan said.

“This is about how do we respond when we have knowledge when somebody is feeling as though they want to do something,” he said. “It’s separate, but it’s all tied in.”

At the same time the policy is being updated, so is the school system’s Trauma Response Manual, which was last updated in 2011, said Kay Malone, supervisor of school counseling.

The manual is being updated in collaboration with school psychologists, pupil personnel workers and school counselors, she said.

Experts trained by Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist and Professor of Education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, who is considered an expert in threat assessments, will work with 150 staff members each day for two days to provide “more concrete knowledge on how to respond in the event of a threat,” Hennigan said.

It is being paid for through Safe to Learn Act funding.

“Typically it’s the student services folks who respond to interact with these students to determine if the threat is transit or substantive — to figure out if it’s something said because you’re angry or something you truly plan on doing,” he said.

In order for the training to be implemented by the Sept. 1 deadline, the school board must vote on the revised policy at its next meeting, Aug. 12. To vote on it then, the school system must cut short by two days the public comment period, which was approved by the board Monday.

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