New Data Reveals Inconsistencies in Threat Assessment Implementation

For Immediate Release: March 31, 2023

Media Contact:
Laura Felix
Texas Appleseed
512-473-2800 ext. 106

Effectiveness of School Safety Efforts Remains Unclear

AUSTIN, Texas — A report by Texas Appleseed includes new data from the 2020-21 school year related to school districts’ Safe and Supportive School Programs (SSSPs) and threat assessment teams required by Texas’ Senate Bill 11 (2019). Texas Appleseed’s public information requests uncovered inconsistent data collection practices, incomplete reporting, teams lacking training, and discrepancies between district-reported data and data provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), suggesting poor implementation that impedes the program’s efficacy. 

In 2019 the Texas Legislature passed SB 11, an omnibus school safety bill, which included language requiring schools to form teams to conduct behavioral threat assessments to proactively assess potential threats and to intervene if a violent incident is evaluated as likely to occur. It also required districts to collect and report specific data to TEA. In the 2020-21 school year, there was little to no regulatory oversight for data collection or reporting and no enforcement for failure to report.

“Threat assessments can prevent unnecessary arrests and help put normal student behavior into perspective so that schools respond appropriately,” said Andrew Hairston, Director of the Education Justice Project at Texas Appleseed. “The SSSP program has the potential to enhance student safety, including addressing warning signs, but only if we ensure that it is implemented correctly.” 

According to TEA-provided data, there were 37,007 threat assessments statewide during the 2020-21 school year from the 1,179 Texas school districts that responded to TEA’s survey request: 49.89 percent of threats assessed were deemed “no risk,” 42.53 percent were designated as a “risk” and referred for interventions or monitoring, and 7.58 percent were deemed an imminent threat and were referred to law enforcement. 

Appleseed also requested data directly from 15 school districts, but only three (Dallas, Houston and Fort Bend ISDs) provided data regarding the reason why the threat assessment team was convened and/or the threat assessment team’s response, and only one (Fort Bend ISD) linked the response to the specific threat — whether the student was referred to counseling, mental health services or special education services, or law enforcement. It is unclear what subsequent action was taken by law enforcement after a referral, namely, whether a student was restrained, arrested, or if charges were filed. 

Additional areas of concern involve the composition of the SSSP threat assessment teams and their preparation and training. For example, one-third of students impacted by threat assessments in Dallas ISD receive special education services, but Dallas ISD does not have a special education staff representative on their SSSP team. Districts cite mental health and substance abuse as the most underrepresented specialties on SSSP teams, and “positive school environment” as the type of training needed to most improve their team’s effectiveness.

Additional Top Findings

  • Austin ISD reported zero threats assessed to our direct request, contradicting TEA-provided data that showed 12,222 threats assessed in the 2020-21 school year. 
  • Northside ISD, the fourth largest district in Texas, reported only 16 threats in the 2020-21 school year.
  • When compared across all 20 Education Service Center (ESC) regions, Princeton ISD had the highest rate of total threats assessed per 100 students enrolled and the highest rate referred to law enforcement.
  • When compared across all 20 ESC regions, Orenda Charter School in Georgetown (ESC 12 Waco) had the second highest rate of threats assessed per 100 students enrolled, but none were referred to law enforcement.
  • There are eight required categories of staffing types that should make up an SSSP team. School administration (57.51 percent) and school safety/security (53.69 percent) are the most represented professionals; however, over 40 percent of districts failed to respond about team representation at all. Based on the data, it is unclear whether districts across the state have appropriate staffing to meet SSSP requirements.

Disaggregating data would be valuable to fully understand the scope of any interventions applied to the students and the school districts’ implementation of their SSSP and threat assessment processes. It’s critical that district personnel develop a deeper understanding of how to best support student needs and ensure school safety, especially in the wake of school tragedies, including the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde in 2022 – the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. 

“Clarifying data collection requirements by local education agencies should be a high-level priority for the Texas Legislature,” Jessi Stafford, Research Analyst for Texas Appleseed said. “Poor reporting undermines the effectiveness of this well-intentioned program, fails to meet public transparency standards, makes it unclear if students are receiving needed mental health supports, undermines clarity on why students are being referred to law enforcement, and ultimately jeopardizes student safety.”

To improve our comprehensive understanding of this program’s effectiveness, data from school districts should include student patterns of non-attendance or truancy; student discipline; school police or law enforcement referrals; staff counts for school police, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health and student support services; and student threat assessment data.

Recommendations for the Legislature and School Districts

  • The Texas Legislature should prioritize measures that advance accountability in TEA monitoring, collecting, analyzing, and auditing of data required by TEC § 37.115(k), including sanctions; these measures should provide funding for SSSP training, data collection, and data reporting;
  • The Texas Legislature should prioritize adding money to the budget for mental health resources;
  • The Texas Legislature should prioritize measures that advance data transparency to better assess the implementation of SB 11 (2019) and related school safety bills across the board, and;
  • Local education agencies should prioritize the funding and hiring of counselors, psychologists, and social workers who can identify threats and mass shooting warning signs before the violence occurs ahead of hiring more school resource officers.

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