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Arkansas School Safety Commission hears advice from former secret service agent

Marble cropped.jpg
Arkansas School Safety Commission
Former Special Agent for the Secret Service Cindy Marble explains to the School Safety Commission the need to detect concerning behavior. She said direct threats are not the only things to look for to deter violence.

During its third meeting since being reconvened, the Arkansas School Safety Commission brought in a security expert to help better understand the issue. Former Special Agent for the Secret Service Cindy Marble spoke to commissioners Tuesday about the importance of having behavioral threat assessment teams in schools.

In an email, Cheryl May, chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission, said 28% of schools in Arkansas have behavioral threat assessment teams.

Marble described for commissioners behavioral threat teams as a way to gather information when a threat is present. She said the teams focus on concerning behaviors instead of direct threats.

“What we’re trying to find out in behavioral threat assessment is the why, the w-h-y behind the behavior. What is the function of the behavior that we’re seeing and why is the person acting out in the way that we’re seeing,” Marble said.

Concerning behaviors that teams look for are students who are being bullied, the bullies themselves, lasing out, increased absences, declining grades and drastic changes in behavior, Marble said.

She explained to lawmakers discipline is often the first step to handle students who are exhibiting problems. She said that is the wrong approach because it can lead to schools overlooking a student who is in distress.

“If the threat assessment team only acted based on threats brought to their attention, they would miss what students are going through — rough times at home like parents divorcing, break up with a boyfriend, fall out with a friend or contemplating suicide,” Marble said.

As a former secret service agent who helped secure the White House from threats, Marble shared that most of the work she did to stop threats centered around intervention and connecting individuals with mental health resources when they showed concerning behavior, instead of acting as law enforcement.

Marble emphasized it is important to make sure threat assessment teams are not seen as adversarial.

“If people think it’s an adversarial process then they’re less likely to bring information because information may get their friends, child, friend’s child or student they really care about in trouble. They are hesitant to do that,” Marble said.

In a rural state like Arkansas, Marble explained it is important to make sure members of the community are involved in behavioral threat assessment teams.

“We need to include our community in this process whether it’s to get information from them or to actually have them be a part of our team if we don’t have the luxury of having school-based mental health professionals,” Marble said. “A lot of our rural schools don’t and a lot of schools that aren’t well funded don’t. Arkansas is like my home state of Texas. There are plenty of places that are very rural and don’t have access to resources, so we bring in the community.”

Commissioner John Allison, who is currently an educator, shared privacy issues about setting up a system to report concerns. Marble said there are laws in place to address privacy concerns.

“One of the things I advocate for folks, especially on the school level, is to take a look at FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and go right to the part that says threat assessment and understand there’s a safety and security clause built in FERPA,” Marble responded to Allison’s question.

According to the U.S Department of Education, school administrators may determine that it is necessary to disclose personal information from a student’s education records to address health or safety emergencies.

The commission will hold meetings every week until an initial report is due to Gov. Asa Hutchinson in August. A final report is due in October.

Ronak Patel was a reporter for KUAR News focusing on state and local government.
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