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New School Threat Assessment Tool Keeps Cincinnati Students Safe

stoneman douglas parkland florida
Wilfredo Lee
Law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school on Feb. 14, 2018.

The Ohio Bar Association is recognizing the Hamilton County Juvenile Court for a proactive program it developed after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. It aims to keep students out of the court system if possible and get them the help they need.

Credit Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Judge John Williams and Dr. Nicole Leisgang after they virtually accepted the Innovative Court Programs Award from the Ohio State Bar Association.

Dr. Nichole Leisgang, chief clinical consultant for the court, traveled the country and even into Canada to research effective tools that would keep students from acting on their school threats. The assessment tool was the idea of Judge John Williams, who wanted to get out in front of these threats.

He recognizes there can't be any mistakes in the assessment.

"Just because it's hard doesn't mean we don't have to do something and we have to get more proactive. We have to do the best we can to address this sort of thing," he says.

How Does It work?

Once schools send juveniles to court after making a threat, a magistrate orders use of the threat assessment tool to look into past history, access to firearms and posts on social media. Then the court connects the student to a variety of social services. In 70 local copycat threats after Parkland, the court says 100% were connected to services, 30% were felonies, 70% were misdemeanors and nobody re-offended.

Williams stresses this is a work in progress. "We don't want kids down here who don't need to be down here, is the bottom line."

The Ohio Bar Association's Angie Lloyd says, "They have tremendous results that reflect the fact, if you identify kids early, you wrap around resources and you give them individualized attention, you can turn these kids' lives around."

Judge Williams doesn't want the threat assessment tool to stay in the courts. He's made it available to schools.

In a separate program throughGeorgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, the court is continuing to work with Cincinnati Public Schools, Princeton and Northwest to investigate and assess threats of school violence.

"Every single threat is taken seriously," says Northwest Local School District'sAssistant Director of Student Services Dustin Gehring. "Every single action requires an action step but the action step or the intervention is going to be different based on every level of the threat, whether it be of an utterance all the way to something that has validity to it."

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.