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Using Special Education Services Models to Enhance Threat Assessment

Using Special Education Services Models to Enhance Threat Assessment

In the 2017-18 school year, 7 million public school students (ages 3-21) received special education services (National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2019). Reflecting upon the efforts that take place throughout the school year, and every year, the REMS TA Center would like to thank all of the educators — special education and general education professionals alike — as well as the paraprofessionals, school psychologists, counselors, district and school administrators, and school support staff who provide and support special education services for our students. In addition to supporting students’ academic success, they are instrumental in the positive and healthy development of students’ social and personal development as individuals and members of the whole school community. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the well-being and resilience of everyone and especially our students.

Furthermore, we express our gratitude for special educators’ invaluable expertise and contributions to school safety, security, emergency management, and preparedness, and — more recently — #SchoolSafetyatHome. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of considering all settings and all times in our preparedness work and the existing resources that education agencies have access to while they safely stay at home and engage in “school at home.”

Are your school safety partners, leadership, and emergency management planning and behavioral threat assessment teams utilizing and collaborating with your special education colleagues at your education agency? We encourage you to facilitate this dialogue because special educators are valuable partners in that they

  • Conduct academic, social, and behavioral assessments of students regularly, leading both data collection and analysis;
  • Determine the degree to which a physical, cognitive, or emotional disability exists and, if unaddressed, interferes with the students’ academic achievement and school success;
  • Design related accommodations, modifications, and strategies based on students’ strengths to help them develop the necessary skills and behaviors to succeed in school;
  • Develop plans (e.g., an individual education program (IEP), behavior intervention plans) with goals and objectives, and then lead the review of and updates to those plans and students’ related growth;
  • Have expertise in navigating technical concepts, principles, and terminology across professions; and
  • Collaborate by profession and serve as case managers to a team.

Whether your education agency is designing and/or implementing your emergency operations plan (EOP) or conducting behavioral threat assessments, special educators can bring indisputable value to your activities. Invite them to serve on your core planning team, so that they can contribute to the evaluation of drills and exercises and enhancement of your EOP during the development and/or review process. We also encourage you to consider inviting them to participate on your behavioral threat assessment team, where they can partake in the evaluation of student behavior and application of performance-based assessments. This work — which can be accomplished by resources and people already present within your education agency — may provide critical insight and will ultimately help you build your comprehensive school safety, security, and emergency preparedness program.

Multidisciplinary Teams

Multidisciplinary Teams Special education teachers are just one group of key personnel serving on the multidisciplinary teams that determine a student’s eligibility to receive special education services. Other team members required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act include general education teachers, additional individuals “who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results” such as school psychologists and counselors, school district representatives, representatives from the municipality’s transition service agency, parents, individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, and, in some cases, the child with a disability. This evaluation process includes using a comprehensive set of informal and formal assessments (e.g., observations, interviews, reviews of student work) to better understand the student, his/her strengths and challenges, and identify the appropriate support.

Once a student is found eligible to receive special education services, the multidisciplinary teams meet to collaboratively create an IEP for the student. This development process is informed by assessments (Step 2); includes the creation of goals and objectives, much like an EOP team does in Step 3; and identifies services, supports, and adaptations that will be provided (similar to Step 4) to ensure that those goals and objectives are met for the student. Special educators contribute expertise and best practices in analyzing student behavior and communications, writing functional behavioral assessments, identifying students’ needs areas that can be strengthened, and crafting behavior plans. This process mirrors that of the behavioral threat assessment process, and these skills reinforce the quality of benchmarks outlined in the IEP that should be used to examine a student’s academic and social performance and behaviors.

Behavioral Threat Assessment

Behavioral Threat Assessment This evaluation model used by special educators has a lot in common with the process for conducting behavioral threat assessments and determining whether or not a student may pose a threat to himself/herself or others. Both processes aim to gather and analyze information to identify possible patterns or indicators of a child’s needs in relationship to his/her healthy and positive achievements academically, socially, and individually. Additionally, both processes use a variety of sources, incorporate continual evaluations and adjustments, and are supportive of the student.

We encourage schools to build on the experience of school-based people and everyday policies and programs and to recognize the expertise that special educators, school psychologists, and their colleagues have and already use each day.

Multidisciplinary teams can either take on the responsibility of conducting behavioral threat assessments, which should be performed by a trained, multidisciplinary team anyway, or contribute to the development of a separate threat assessment team. Threat assessment teams should consider some of the core principles of special education when conducting threat assessments, including parent participation and confidentiality.

Best Practices

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Did you know that 2020 marks the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 100th anniversary of the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act? Send us a note via email ( or Twitter (@remstacenter) about how your education agency is partnering with special educators in your school safety efforts during this milestone anniversary year!

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