Chief Executive Officer JP Guilbault Testifies at Michigan House K12 Appropriations Committee Hearing, Imploring the Use of School Threat Assessment Training to Complement Current State Mental Health Initiatives
A Call for Action
On Thursday, January 27th, 2022, Navigate360 CEO JP Guilbault was called to appear in front of the Michigan House K12 Appropriations Committee to address the topic of school violence prevention and to present holistic, evidence-based solutions that can help schools prevent the escalation of concerning behaviors into harm to self and others.
Following the hearing, he shared his main points from the 20-minute testimony:
“Safety is an incredibly complex, multifaceted issue for schools and educators, one that is constantly evolving and contains threats in the physical, psychological and digital worlds. The ability to collect and connect all of the dots to identify and manage these threats has never been so challenging.
Considerations for holistic school safety cannot be ‘either/or’ — they must be united by ‘and.’ Like three legs of a stool, there are pillars to a multi-pronged approach, and they include the following: School climate and culture; the tools and technology to detect, assess, manage and intervene; and 360-degree safety plans that train staff and students to mitigate and respond.
The great news for the state of Michigan is that they are already a leader in school safety. Through the state-funded Michigan Cares program, all Michigan schools and districts have access to social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that encourages students to develop positive self-identities, manage complex emotions, navigate a variety of social situations, build strong relationships with others, and grow empathetic world views.
As a complement to this initiative to address youth mental health, the next step is for every school in every district to be both required and able to form and train a multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Team (TAT). It’s vital to note the main objective of a school Threat Assessment Team is not to punish; it is to identify the likelihood of the action being carried out turning into violence and the root cause behind the action, as well as to get the child help and off the pathway to violence or self-harm.
These holistic solutions are better together, and it is incumbent upon us to protect and support the students of Michigan and beyond.” – JP Guilbault, Chief Executive Officer, Navigate360
We are all better together in our efforts to prevent school violence and we invite you to read more from the testimony below.
I am JP Guilbault, CEO of Navigate360, a Michigander who was born, raised and went to college in this great state. I am also a father of 5.
While I wish I were here under different circumstances, the Oxford Michigan shooting has again brought tragedy and trauma to families, educators and our communities.
At Navigate360, we focus on holistic school safety, encompassing all critical aspects from prevention through recovery. We empower schools and communities to stay safe by taking a three-pillar approach. Those pillars include:
- Addressing mental health and school culture through curriculum that develops life skills
- Identifying, assessing and remediating threats and concerning behavior before they are harmful or criminal
- Developing strong school safety plans and providing incident-based training for all-hazard events, including Active Shooter Situations
Safety is an incredibly complex, multifaceted issue for schools and educators, one that is complex because educators are often asked to delineate between tertiary and substantive threats. How do they do that? How do they distinguish between normal child development behavior and sometimes bad choices from those behaviors with intent progressing toward violence? The spectrum of risk is constantly evolving and contains threats in the physical, psychological and digital worlds. The ability to collect and connect all of the dots and identify and manage threats has never been more challenging.
Oftentimes, solutions are fragmented – At best, they are loosely sewn together solutions that make the task of detecting, assessing and preventing harm and violence ever more challenging for educators. The implementation of safety programs and technology requires expertise, training and bridging of information and data – It requires methods that are connected and configurable and constantly calibrated to each school’s environment. And they require the input of all stakeholders.
For many years, when seeking prevention, we hardened schools with door locks, metal detectors and other physical safety measures that sought to make people feel safe. The problem here is that unseen factors like mental health and social-emotional wellbeing were not addressed as part of the equation. The pillars of addressing mental health and school culture through curricula that develops life skills and identifying, assessing and remediating threats and concerning behavior before they become harmful or criminal are critical to averting students away from a pathway to violence.
There have been many studies done over the last 20 years in response to school shootings. Both the FBI and the Secret Service conducted studies, as have others, that found these students were often victims of bullying, had adverse childhood experiences, or suffered from a variety of psychological issues and had become angry and depressed.
What we also learned is that almost all the students who attacked their schools had communicated their intentions to attack through threats (and warnings) to others, typically their peers. Had these threats been reported to authorities and investigated, the shootings might have been prevented. Multiple studies have identified potential school shootings that were prevented because students reported a threat to authorities that was investigated and determined to be serious.
Unidentified, unmanaged and unbridled mental health and concerning behavior issues are at the core of this, and schools can play a large part in tackling them.
In October of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared adolescent mental health a National Emergency.
In the weeks that followed Oxford, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on the devastating state of youth mental health.
There are countless statistics that reinforce these urgent calls for action:
- In 2020, mental health claims from teens increased 97%.
- 70% of teens say anxiety and depression is a “major problem” among their peers.
Additionally, according to recent teen polls conducted by Navigate360 and John Zogby Strategies in December 2021:
- 58% of students are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their own mental health and equally their own emotional health
- 39% disagree that their “mental health needs are being met at school”
- 33% disagree that “mental health needs are being met at home”
Decades of research and studies have also established that children who experience adverse childhood experiences (which we can all agree, the last two years have not been normal) are not only more likely to exhibit negative behaviors at school; they are more likely to develop risky behaviors too.
According to a National Survey on Children’s Health, 46% of America’s children have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). Given this pervasiveness, most educators witness and deal with sudden changes in students’ behavior, from social withdrawal to violent outbursts to self-harm. These outbursts impact the psychological well-being and safety of both educators and students and can no longer go unexamined.
So how can schools and educators collect, connect, assess and manage the “dots” when it comes to threats being made?
Tools that can help schools and districts to collect the dots include:
To connect, assess and manage these dots, there must be a focus on Behavioral Threat Assessment Training & Case Management. Information that is loosely connected or trapped in a silo means nothing, but when this information is connected and available to trained staff, it tells a story and triggers action and greater insight.
Based on research and observations, there is widespread support for schools to adopt a threat assessment approach. Watch this video from Dr. Dewey Cornell, principal author of the leading evidence-based school behavioral threat assessment model, Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG), on what 20 years of research has shown.
Now I’d like to give you greater insight into the application of threat assessment.
The methods and goals of school threat assessment for students are not the same as those for other populations. In school settings, threat assessment is a problem-solving approach to violence prevention that involves assessment and intervention with students who have threatened violence in some way.
The primary goal of threat assessment is safety for everyone, but another important goal is to help students be successful in school.
- Whether tracking students posing a threat of violence to self or to others, the pathway is the same – the first step is ideation, followed by planning, preparation and implementation.
- They start with an idea to do harm, develop a plan to carry it out, then acquire the means or capacity to do so, and then they act.
- To the extent that information about an attacker’s intent and planning is knowable before an incident takes place through the methods I mentioned above, some attacks may be preventable.
- Findings from the Safe School Initiative suggest that the time span between the attacker’s decision to mount an attack and the actual incident may be short. Consequently, when indications that a student may pose a threat to the school community arise in the form of revelations about a planned attack, school administrators and law enforcement officials will need to move quickly to inquire about and intervene in that plan.
- Navigate360 has worked closely with Dr. Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist, director of UVA Virginia’s Your Violence Project and author of the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) model, to design training for multidisciplinary threat assessment teams to apply and use tools to conduct assessments in a way that is efficient yet comprehensive to ensure efficacy of outcomes. We have done the same with members of the U.S. Secret Service to adapt the NTAC model for schools.
- Regardless of the chosen model, forming and training a multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Team (TAT) is one of the very first and most important steps to be taken by the state and supported by education. We must remember, the objective of the Threat Assessment Team is not to punish but to identify 1.) the likelihood of the action being carried out, 2.) the root cause behind it, and 3.) to get the child help and off the pathway to violence or self-harm.
In closing, students lack confidence that their schools are protecting their safety – physically, socially and emotionally.
- 48% of teens think more or the same today regarding their physical and emotional safety and wellness than they did around 6 months ago
- Less than 15% have great confidence that their school is spending enough time and money to keep them safe or doing its best to create an atmosphere of emotional safety
The good news is you have already started making great strides in that direction. Through the state-level Michigan Cares program, all Michigan schools and districts have access to social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that encourages students to develop positive self-identities, manage complex emotions, navigate a variety of social situations, build strong relationships with others, and develop empathetic world views. The program is scaling as more schools adopt and leverage Michigan Cares. We now see more than 130,000 students benefiting from the character-building curriculum, with more than 270,000 lessons that have already been assigned.
We have more to do to stop school violence. Taking the steps I mentioned above will improve school climate, increase teacher engagement and enhance academic performance in our schools.
These holistic solutions are better together, we are better together, and it is incumbent upon us to protect and support the students of Michigan and beyond.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear today.
Chief Executive Officer, Navigate360
We believe in a comprehensive approach to protecting your staff and students. While every district has unique needs and challenges, our revolutionary suite of complementary and integrated solutions spans the full spectrum of safety, including threat detection and prevention, mental health and wellness, and safety management and preparedness. Backed by research and developed by industry experts, we provide all the tools necessary to enhance and save lives. Contact us to learn more.