Virginia task force recommends dedicated funding for campus threat assessment team training

This article was reprinted with permission from Virginia Mercury

A task force directed by the Virginia legislature has recommended creating a dedicated funding stream for threat assessment team training on college and university campuses and allowing teams to share confidential information about a person who’s the subject of an investigation with other public institutions.

An assessment team may investigate a person, whether a student or potential employee of a college or university, if they are determined to pose a “significant” threat of violence to others.

This month, a task force directed by the state’s Secretary of Education and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security released its report with a handful of recommendations to improve how threat assessment teams, responsible for campus safety, operate.

Legislative action would need to be taken before any of the recommendations could be implemented.

Following the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, lawmakers passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to establish threat assessment teams to help prevent violence on campus.

Since then, such laws have been expanded, requiring all K-12 public school divisions to have teams and permitting institutions of higher education to obtain records of people considered a “significant” threat on campuses, following the killing of three University of Virginia football players by another student in November 2022.

One of the task forces’ recommendations was to dedicate a stream of funding for assessment team training.

The task force said the existing training requirement was never funded and was supported through grants. The group added that the most recent grant funding for assessment team training has expired.

“Without grant funding, the department will be unable to deliver mandated training without charging substantial tuition for training,” the report stated.

The task force also recommended removing language from state law requiring the Department of Criminal Justice Services to approve an independent entity for training assessment teams, which they called “problematic.”

Under the existing requirement, team members have to complete at least eight hours of training with the DCJS or a group it approves within 12 months of being appointed and at least two hours of additional training every year after that.

“The provision that discusses training conducted by an independent entity approved by the department is problematic, because DCJS does not have specific licensing authority for those independent entities, there is no criteria by which DCJS can judge whether to approve those entities and because it gives DCJS no authority over curriculum for those outside entities,” the report stated.

The task force also proposed an amendment to the state code that would require each member to complete an introductory foundational course in threat assessment, approved and delivered under the supervision of DCJS within 12 months of joining the threat assessment team and complete a minimum of two hours of threat assessment training each academic year after that.

Another task force recommendation would amend state law to allow the public college or university’s threat assessment teams, which conducted an initial investigation of a student or employee deemed a “significant” threat, to share confidential information about that person when they are considering transferring schools or gaining employment at other Virginia public colleges and universities.

At private Virginia institutions, they would be required to share that information with the dean of students, if the person investigated as a potential threat is a student, or with human resources if that person is an employee.

The notification would occur after the initial assessment team determined through a “full inquiry and assessment,” compared to the current, less-clear language mandating teams take action“ pursuant to an investigation.”

Existing state law only requires threat assessment teams to notify the receiving institution of the subject of their investigation or determination.

The report stated that the provision’s current language could have made teams liable for defamation in other states because the requirement failed to explicitly limit the notification requirement to only Virginia schools.

The task force did not provide a list of best practices and procedures guidance for threat assessment teams because the ones the task force identified and would have recommended were “inconsistent” with the changes made in legislation that passed last year, the report stated.

“The task force does not have the liberty to publish best practices guidance that is inconsistent with mandates in the Code of Virginia.”

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up