Can Threat Assessment Teams Function in Schools Practicing PBIS?

Stone Bridge High School Chantilly

by James C. Sherlock

Last I read, Attorney General Miyares’ Loudoun County special grand jury is still empaneled.

There is another matter worthy of investigation in the cases of the rapes of two school girls in Loudoun County high schools.

That is the matter of the threat assessment teams (TATS) in each school.

The special grand jury, an investigating and reporting body, offers a very important opportunity to understand why these school safety structures required by Virginia laws, which failed at the institution of higher education (IHE) level in the case of a shooter at UVa, failed as well under a parallel law in two different Loudoun high schools that hosted a double rapist.

The TAT system in these two high school cases may prove to have been unused, a violation of that law.

But in practice a TAT may be unable to function as designed…

  • in schools in which a discipline system of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) exists as in Loudoun County; or
  • in an IHE which consciously avoids making judgments on student conduct and is unduly sensitive to cultural and racial scorecards.

Virginia school divisions and the General Assembly need the details of what happened in the cases of the TATS in those two high schools to assess whether both law and practice of threat assessment need to be adjusted, or indeed if school safety is even compatible with PBIS.

The short answer to that last question, based on my research and reporting, appears to be no.

The same school officials who administer PBIS are by law members of the TAT.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is defined by its proponents as “a way to create positive, predictable, equitable and safe learning environments where everyone thrives.”

When you implement PBIS with fidelity, it fits seamlessly within your local context. To do that requires a focus on aspects of culture and equity.

The ultimate goal of implementing PBIS data, systems, and practices is to improve outcomes. Families, students, and educators set goals and work together to achieve them. In PBIS, outcomes might include behavioral, social, emotional, and academic growth; positive school climate; or fewer office discipline referrals.

PBIS deplores out-of-school discipline. It keeps score by an official reporting system. The one with the highest score in this system is not the winner.

By contrast, the TAT system, under Virginia law, is tasked with “the assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of school staff or students.”


  1. is tasked to identify threats;
  2. must make sure internally that they are fair, but must be immune to considerations of how such identifications may be interpreted by culture and equity scorekeepers; and
  3. is focused on “office discipline referrals” in the case of individuals who threaten school safety.

TATS and PBIS are clearly bad cultural fits, requiring two different approaches to and philosophies on discipline by their members, who in K-12 schools are the same people.

I hope the Loudoun special grand jury will investigate and report…

  • whether the TATs, as required by Virginia law, were even convened in those schools in the case of the rapist; and
  • whether those two systems co-exist well in the two high schools. Or even could.

The deliberations of a grand jury are secret, so they may already be on it.

We hope so.