Opinion: Schools across the country should have a threat-assessment team

Everywhere in America should implement a system similar to the one of the Iowa City Community School District.


Michael Guhin

The Iowa City Community School District sign is seen on Apr. 29, 2019.

Taylor Newby, Columnist

Last week, the Iowa City Community School District was granted $187,000 in federal funding in support of the district’s threat-assessment team and the implementation of social-media monitoring within the district. The team will monitor students’ social media accounts with the intention of  preventing and intervening with crises.

“If students are threatening harm to themselves or the community, we hope to be aware of it ahead of time. That way, we can intervene and prevent a crisis from happening,” Assistant Superintendent Matt Denger said in an interview with the The Daily Iowan Nov. 7.

The devastation of online threats and violence is not a new thing to school systems, but it must be addressed now. In recent years, as our country has watched the numbers of mass shootings and adolescent suicide-attempts pile higher and higher, the attention to what is being posted on social media platforms has increased, and it might be key to stopping further violence.

The school board recently came together and talked through ways they could work at preventing crisis within the district. And when it came to discussing the ways they could best prevent potentially dangerous situations, they landed on social media. 

“Primarily, any student conflicts or threats that we have at our schools have origin in social media,” Denger said. “Most communication is happening electronically, and we want to do what we can to make sure our students are safe.” 

The implementation of the threat-assessment team in navigating social media may focus on algorithms, keywords, or certain phrases — although they are still considering the best methods to mobilize this resource.

The district intends to find warning signals online in order to be able to assess, act, and intervene in threatening situations while refraining from invading a student’s privacy.

The importance of this funding, the team, and the direction they are moving in is unparalleled.

The importance of this funding, the team, and the direction they are moving in is unparalleled. The prevalence of suggested violence online is baffling and ever-present within America. In order to have a foothold in crisis prevention, it’s imperative that social media is an area people are focusing on.

According to a 2018 report from NPR, after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there were about 50 online threats against schools across the country every day that week. Students were flooding onto social media, blasting their timelines and news-feeds with unprecedented hate and resentment for their own school hallways.

Schools across the country are in need of something such as a threat-assessment team — a group of people fully committed to observing, assessing, and reacting to what is being shared online.

With wholehearted dedication to caring for students in considering the apparent warning signs online, violent circumstances can be confronted beforehand and eliminated.

Online violence, in the various ways it appears, deserves our full attention. The Department of Justice, in awarding the district a federal grant, is giving Iowa City an opportunity to do just that.

But it cannot stop with our elementary, middle, and high schools. This sort of intervention and prevention must carry over into every category, including higher education, the workplace, and throughout our communities.

This level of care and intentionality cannot only exist inside the classroom, and must be considered in every other category of our lives.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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