These are the concerns BUILD has with the proposed policy 5401 regarding student discipline:
1. Police are still called for a consult on "transient" threats in grades 9-12. This is potentially a violation of the federal privacy law FERPA since law enforcement officials aren't considered "school officials." Therefore it's unclear how disclosure of student educational records or personally identifiable information to police for a "consult' in the absence of a specific and significant threat to "health and safety emergency" of a student or others is permitted under federal law. By definition, a transient threat poses no immediate threat to health or safety. And depending on the degree of a "substantive" threat, it could also be argued that these threats may not pose any immediate threats to health or safety.
2. All "substantive" threats regardless of the age or grade of a student will require a call to police. But the policy doesn't offer any distinction different types of "substantive" threat. This is counter to the model spelled out by Dr. Dewey Cornell in his Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines on which the District claims to have based its policy. In his book, Cornell differentiates between serious and very serious substantive threats. It seems the school district is painting a heavy brush stroke with only one classification of "substantive" threat and is requiring police notification in every instance.
Not following the model and differentiating between serious and very serious substantive threats could make the flow chart the district intends to use in the schools difficult to follow. The Dewey Cornell model was chosen as a model because it is evidence-based. If the district decides to substantially alter the model, as it's suggesting, then it won't be able to apply the policy with fidelity and likely not to reap the supposed benefits of the model.
3. The bar to classify something as a "substantive" threat is still pretty low. For example, if a student doesn't recant or say they didn't mean it, the threat can be considered substantive. This is especially dangerous for younger students and students with disabilities, who may not understand the consequences of what they say and do.
4. There is still no clear statement in the policy on how the school will take into consideration a student/s disability when determining whether the threat is transient or substantive or on what disciplinary action to take. Schools are required under federal IDEA law to respond to students with a disability in a manner consistent with behavior support plans or service agreements, so more specific language in the policy should be noted.
5. There are still several inconsistencies between the 5401 policy and the accompanying regulation. For instance, a threat requires a call to police as per the policy, while an actual act of violence, as stated and defined in the regulation, does not require a call to police.
6 .The new policy attempts to define police "consultation," but it doesn't actually define the circumstances in which local law enforcement may be asked to participate in a Threat Assessment or what that conversation actually looks like. All it says is that "Consultation allows law enforcement to participate in the threat assessment process, as contemplated by the Public School Code, to assist with the determination as to whether a threat constitutes a transient or substantive threat. Consultation also provides the opportunity for communication between school officials and law enforcement to share information known by one agency with the other in order to best plan protective supports as appropriate."
7. There is still no distinction in practical terms between a "police consultation" and "police notification." In practice, the current police consultation, which the proposed policy still plans to continue, consists of school staff providing personally identifiable information about the student and the incident to police. This is the same as a police record and/or police incident report. The result is that a consultation for a "transient" threat or "substantive" threat that is not very serious, bears no distinction from an incident/police report generated by the police department for any activity whether it's inconsequential or criminal. All of these reports are retained by the Tredyffrin and Easttown police Departments and are publicly available via Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law. Also, law enforcement records are not education records, and therefore are not subject to the same privacy protections under FERPA. It is not appropriate for student personally identifiable information or educational records to be disclosed to law enforcement in instances of transient threats. This is true regardless of whether the student is in elementary school or high school.
8. The revised policy also refers to a "police report" when discussing the notification for more serious threats. But again, the revised policy doesn't make a distinction between this type of report and the "consultation." It's unclear if there is some agreement with the local police departments regarding whether there is a distinction under the revised policy to differentiate between the different types of reports. There is also no information on how or if police will be trained to make the distinction between a "consultation" and filling out a police incident report.
Please let BUILD know if you have additional concerns, comments or questions.