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Harford schools include mental health component in active assailant training

The Aegis - 1/8/2019

Jan. 08--Active assailant training includes more than just learning what to do in response to an incident, as school system officials are finding out as they begin state-mandated training.

A lot of other components are involved, including mental health, reunification and threat assessment, said Donoven Brooks, Harford County Public Schools' safety and security coordinator.

"Once an incident happens, we look at total critical response to the incident," Brooks said. That includes recovery methods and reunification training, he said.

The 2018 Maryland Safe to Learn Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly last April, mandates that all Maryland school systems implement an active assailant training.

Harford's training, a coordinated effort between the school system, Harford County Sheriff's Office and Harford County government, is called Active Assailant Critical Response Training.

"It ensures local school systems have coordinated preparedness measures and integrated response procedures in place to respond to emergency events," Brooks said.

Harford began its training program Nov. 9 and as of Monday had trained 300 administrators, managers and supervisors, he said. The rest should be trained by the end of 2019 and all students are expected to be trained by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

The number of school system trainers also doubled to 10, Brooks said.

According to the Safe Schools Act, each school district will be required to have a mental health coordinator who will help with threat assessment training.

"As part of a holistic approach, we want to go beyond the existing training and learn what our options are to respond to these things, how we can effectively recover quickly from these incidents," Brooks said, "and have the smoothest transition possible to reunify students with families and parents and most importantly how we can abate situations from happening through effective threat assessment training for personnel at the school level and the district level."

Some students and adults, especially those who suffer from anxiety, could have reactions to the training, and board vice president Laura Runyeon asked how trainers would handle that.

The mental health partners will be part of developing the training and plan to address those issues, Brooks said.

"Students and even adults who take the training are impacted by it," he said. "Past trauma could impact how people receive training."

The training includes content and practical training, according to Jackie Tarbert, coordinator of leadership and professional development curriculum, instruction and assessment for the school system.

The content training is done as a group.

"It's very powerful, meaningful, with an emotional component," Tarbert said. "As we learn together, we understand what we might do if a situation were to actually occur."

The practical training includes scenario-based activities working with law enforcement -- "how we will react, practicing what this looks like," she said.

"It's about the teachers, about the parents, the per diem cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, the central office folks, a comprehensive look and thought to prepare all our staff members," Tarbert said.

Beginning in the fall, teachers and administrators will lead age-appropriate drills for students.

Harford students have been taught the Red Dot response to an active assailant incident, which is the same from school to school, said Joshua Oltarzewski, student representative on the board of education . He asked if the new training would also be the same.

AACRT will provide students with options that can be applied in an situation or event, Brooks said, which was based on feedback from the sheriff's town hall meeting and school sessions last year.

"Based on feedback, we know Harford County Public Schools students, employees, parents want our students to have options, our staff members to have options," Brooks said. "This is definitely an option-based training."

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