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School board discusses student behavior matrix, threat assessments


At its regular meeting held on Tuesday, May 14 the Archuleta School District Board of Education (BOE) heard from Superintendent Rick Holt in regard to the district’s student behavior matrix that is used to help identify disruptive behaviors and the suggested response.

“One thing that became apparent in my first year here is I was getting phone calls from principals and assistant principals asking, ‘How do we handle a particular situation? And how’s that been handled in the past? And what do we want to do about that?,’” Holt said. “So, it wasn’t long into that first year where we sat down with principals and started to look at a behavior-response matrix.”

Holt explained that, “based on that collective work, we have a systemic, and I would say systematic, behavior response that creates consistency, equity, alignment, reliability and predictability across the schools.”

He mentioned the district has been doing a lot of “norming” over the past two years around specific situations, indicating that the student behavior matrix allows staff to identify certain behaviors which can then be addressed with appropriate responses from school staff.

“We’re trying to build in safety for all of the people in our organization, students and adults alike, protecting the rights of all of those people, responding to behaviors as communication,” he said, explaining that students, specifically younger students, may not know how to express themselves appropriately and that the district needs to view those situations as the student asking for help. 

He added that some students may need to be explicitly coached on expected behaviors, while others may need to be removed from a situation.

The student behavior matrix includes five levels of behaviors and the responses associated with those behaviors.

According to the student behavior matrix level-one behaviors consist of classroom-managed responses, level-two behaviors include office-supported responses, level-three behaviors include office-directed responses, level-four behaviors consist of office responses for definitive safety concerns and level-five behaviors elicit mandatory responses.

Holt explained that classroom teachers take care of level-one behaviors on a regular basis within their room and that level-two behaviors are considered disruptive and responses include recommended interventions, suspension, expulsion and can involve filing a police report, but that all depends on the age of the student, the specifics of the situation and the severity of the behavior. 

He also mentioned that some state laws require certain actions, like suspension for certain situations.

“This document creates a system and allows us to respond predictively and consistently in a way that we don’t have wild variability from one building to the next,” Holt said.

He explained that the student behavior matrix responses escalate with behaviors, as does the support for that student, as well as recommending when it’s appropriate to conduct a threat assessment.

“This document does recommend when it’s a nice idea versus its a have to,” Holt said, referring to when a threat assessment should be conducted.

He then went on to explain that level-four behaviors are major safety concerns and level-five behaviors call for a mandatory response.

He added that there are not a lot of response options as they are mostly spelled out in school board policy or state law.

“We don’t get a lot of type-four, type-five behaviors, that’s pretty minimal, but it’s not uncommon to see some type-two and type-three behaviors,” Holt said, adding, “We feel it’s really important that we respond to students in a way that aligns with their developmental ability.”

He explained how a situation involving a kindergarten student may be treated differently than a similar situation involving a high school student, noting that the expertise of district staff was used to build flexibility into this system.

“This tool helps us do that in a systematic way that doesn’t leave us, let’s say, in the heat of the moment, making a poor decision. Instead, we can make a calculated decision based on clear data and experience that we’ve had,” he said.

Holt noted that the district has been using the student behavior matrix for two years now and that he is meeting monthly with school staff to review and modify the system if needed.

“Our response to behavior is teaching,” he said, explaining that recommended interventions are put in place to support and improve behaviors for the student in the future.

Holt went on to explain some things have natural consequences, but that a majority of students with level-one and level-two behaviors need the opportunity to learn and grow. 

“What we really need to do is help our young adults figure out how to behave in a group of peers with other adults,” he said, adding that the safety and protection of rights for everyone are the top concerns.

“Those things are important to us,” he said.

BOE president Bob Lynch commented that he likes the support and teaching aspects that are built into the student behavior matrix, noting that some mistakes may not need such a serious response, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow.

“In general the philosophy is that we don’t allow students to disrupt the learning time to the extent that other students are suffering from a loss of learning,” Holt added.

Pagosa Springs Elementary School Principal Kelly Vining also provided the BOE with a review of the district’s threat assessment procedure.

“All school threat assessments look different,” she said, noting that “they are routine in our school.”

Vining explained that what constitutes a threat is “when a student’s behavior and communication, or reported behavior or communication, deviates from the normal for that student or the normal of other student peers. This indicates that there could be a concern for student safety and the safety of others, so school officials, like administrators, should initiate a threat assessments inquiry for prevention of targeted school violence.”

She mentioned that a threat can be written, verbal or a physical gesture like shaking a fist at someone.

“It comes in a variety of ways,” she said. “Basically, if a threat is made … it is taken seriously.”

Vining explained that the “threat assessment threshold is very low,” providing the example of a kindergarten student saying, “I’m going to kill you,” as something that would warrant a threat assessment.

She explained how language such as that might be common in the household of one student, whereas other students may not be exposed to that sort of language at all at home.

Vining went on to explain that when a threat is made, an administrator contacts the student’s family to have that student taken home and the student is “mutually suspended” until the threat assessment is complete.

“We do this as a safety measure,” she added.

Vining noted that bullying behaviors such as sexual harassment and fighting could warrant a threat assessment.

Vining explained the threat assessment process consists of eight steps, which include: assembling the threat assessment team, gathering a variety of information, using multiple data sources, organizing and analyzing the information, determination of concern leading a response plan, developing a response plan, documenting and keeping records of the threat assessment, and continuing to monitor the student.

She noted that any physical, verbal or drawn threats, or having a weapon at school, require a threat assessment to be conducted.

Vining went on to explain that there are 11 questions under step four of the process that have been formulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“They found that there are patterns within these 11 questions,” she said.“It’s difficult to process and to go through, and so we really try very hard to think through the developmental age or the developmental capacity of the student.”

She explained if a full threat assessment is completed, the threat is categorized into level A,B,C or D, with level A being the most severe by posing a clear and immediate threat.

Levels A through C all involve law enforcement, she noted.

Level D is the least threatening and does not appear to pose a threat, and the situation can be handled through a support plan, Vining explained.

“We have simultaneous interests happening; we want to take care of the students threatened and had something scary happen to them, but we also want to support the students that made a threat. Oftentimes, they don’t have other language to replace it or they don’t understand the consequences to their actions,” she said.

Vining explained that interventions for students can look a variety of different ways and may include things like suspension, an isolated lunch seat or limited playground time.

“We have plenty of interventions and support in place for those students,” she said, adding that home visits with law enforcement and the Department of Human Services are also options.

She also noted that if a student is suspended off campus, they must have a re-entry meeting with administrators and staff for that student to be allowed back in the building.

Vining also explained all of the information is documented and kept in what is called a “vortex” which can be shared when a student moves from one school to the next, or if they move out of district all of the information can be shared with the new school.

“The purpose of this, especially at the elementary school, is to document baseline behaviors,” she said, and “to see if they remain the same, see if they improve versus if they escalate.”

Holt commented on the threat assessment review, saying, “There has been nothing like this in the past.”

He mentioned the district may have previously written off a lot of the threats or bullying behaviors as jokes.

“Threat assessments are critical in identifying those students who do check a lot of those 11 questions and so that we’re able to early on get eyes on those students and make sure they get the support they need before they do something that we’ve seen often, often in the news,” Holt added.

He explained the district uses a multidisciplinary team when conducting threat assessments, including school resource officers.

“It’s a new thing. It’s sad we have to do it, but we’re glad to be doing it because it is this kind of diligence that is going to stop something dangerous from happening,” Holt said.

BOE board member Amanda Schick mentioned the student behavior matrix and the threat assessment process allows for a “very clear way” to move forward when dealing with these situations.

Lynch asked how many threat assessments had been conducted so far this year at the elementary school, with Vining indicating a total of 30 had been conducted.

Vining explained that, during the previous two years, only about six threat assessments were conducted, but that she was mainly the only one involved and now more staff has been trained and more resources are available to conduct threat assessments.

She added that she expects an average of 30 threat assessments to be conducted per year moving forward.