UTAH (ABC4) – In the last month alone, police in Utah have reported at least three school threats; two targeting elementary schools in Moab and Provo and one in Bluffdale at Summit Academy.
How threats are handled depends on what school your child attends. Student and school safety specialist Rhett Larsen is a part of the School Safety Center. Back in 2019, the legislature tasked this safety center with creating threat assessment guidelines for schools.
“The team approach is the best way and to have a multidisciplinary team,” said Larsen.
That is in part why Larsen said the School Safety Center endorses the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines, also known as CSTAG, developed by Dr. Dewey Cornell.
Dr. Cornell said he was inspired by the work he did with the FBI on school shootings as well as work by the Secret Service on threat assessment. In his research, Dr. Cornell found schools make two mistakes: underreaction and overreaction.
“Maybe they bring a plastic knife to school, in their lunchbox. They do something that’s not really posing a serious threat, but it raises concern, and schools often will overreact, they’ll use zero tolerance,” said Dr. Cornell.
Dr. Cornell said overreacting can take away resources from legitimate threats and often does more harm than good for the child.
The CSTAG model consists of five steps. The first two steps involve evaluating the threat and determining if there is intent behind it. If there is intent, there is a list of required precautions. Depending on the severity, which has a specific definition, a safety evaluation and plan must be completed.
While this is considered the gold standard in Utah, it’s not required.
“They should have threat assessment. They should have multidisciplinary teams, but there’s nothing written that they should have it within their policy,” said Larsen.
Schools are also not required to report they are following the conditions. However, Larsen said he is not aware of any schools that are not following those conditions.
ABC4 reached out to several schools across the state asking if they used the CSTAG model. Half of the school districts denied the request or provided a policy not in line with CSTAG. The other half used a similar policy or the same one recommended, like Alpine School District.
“We’ve had some really positive experiences and the schools feel supported and feel like it’s a doable process,” said Alpine School District’s Student Services Director Melissa Bostwick.
Bostwick said she likes that CSTAG focuses on a team approach.
“Typically what schools did before is they would have administrators investigate maybe a school potential threat, and they would have their school resource officers support them,” said Bostwick.
ABC4 found several schools had a similar policy to what Bostwick said she’s seen in the past. Dr. Cornell said that type of policy has been around for a while, but simply pushing the problem down the street and doesn’t address the core issue which is often a child who needs help.
“Honestly, with every student I’ve worked with, if somebody’s worried about them, there’s some hurt going on,” said Alpine School District School Social Worker Koki Cline.
Cline said more often than not, these situations can be an opportunity for them to come together and CSTAG helps them do that.
“A lot of it leads to additional resources and counseling for students, and then also being able to just stop bullying situations or immediate conflict that may be happening,” said Cline.
Below is a list of schools ABC4 confirmed have participated in the CSTAG training. You can request your school’s written threat assessment policies by filling out this form, which emails a generated public records request to your preferred email as well as instructions to where you can email that records request.
CSTAG PARTICIPATING SCHOOLS
Academy for Math, Engineering & Science
Alpine School District
American Leadership Academy
American Preparatory Academy
Ascent Academies of Utah
Beehive Science & Technology Academy
Box Elder School District
Canyons School District
Center for Creativity, Innovation, and Discovery
Central Utah Academy
Daggett School District
Davis School District
Dual Immersion Academy
George Washington Academy
Granite School District
Iron County School District
Itineris Early College High School
Jordan School District
Juab School District
Merit Preparatory Academy
Murray City School District
Nebo School District
Ogden School District
Park City School District
Providence Hall Charter Schools
Salt Lake City School District
San Juan School District
South Summit School District
Spectrum Academy Charter School
Summit Academy High School
Tooele County School District
Utah State Board of Education
Walden School of Liberal Arts
Wasatch County School District
Wasatch Waldorf Charter School
Washington County School District