You are not welcome here…

A group of 31 parents at a Montana high school used litigation to block a troubled student from enrolling in their local school. The teen, Spencer Ore, was expelled from another Montana high school in January of 2013 after he brought two pistols to the school. Ore first told officials that he needed the guns because he was going to run away after to school to live off the land in the Rocky Mountains. He also told them he wanted to prove that automatic weapons were not required to carry out a school shooting.

After the incident with the weapons, Ore spent a year in juvenile detention and therapy programs. He returned home in January of 2014, but was sent back to treatment after posting threatening messages on Facebook about blowing up the school.

Ore improved after returning to therapy, and was deemed well enough to return to public school. This week’s litigation has blocked that possibility.

Spencer Ore’s situation illustrates a fundamental dilemma facing school administrators: how do you balance an individual’s right to a public education with the rights of the rest of the students to be safe?  In the past, Ore has explicitly made threats of harm. More importantly Ore has, at least in the past, engaged in behaviors of concern so as to pose a threat.

Ore’s parents have done what was required of them – they supported their son in serving his time in juvenile detention, and more importantly, ensured that he received appropriate mental health supports and interventions, up to and including medication, therapy, and monitoring. At what point does a student like Spencer Ore stop paying for the consequences of his actions and receive an opportunity for a fresh start? If he never can escape the mistakes and missteps of his past, will his future be a self-fulfilling prophecy? The troubled youth becomes a more troubled young adult.

Yet it is difficult to find fault with the desire of Twin Bridges’ parents to protect that which they hold most dear – their children.

This dilemma, and the sentiments of those on both sides of the issue, once again illustrates the critical nature of threat assessment management in schools.

When a school has a threat assessment team, trained professionals are able to critically analyze the behaviors exhibited by individuals of concern to assess the level of potential threat. Perhaps even more importantly in this case, that same team can monitor and support the individual within the school setting to provide appropriate interventions that ensure the safety of all parties.