HAMILTON COUNTY — Hamilton County's juvenile court is being recognized as a leader in the state for a new program they've developed designed to assess student-made threats against schools, and ensure students don't act on those threats.
Judge John Williams wanted to develop a threat assessment program that will both keep schools safe and provide support for students who may be acting out and in need of help. He said he got the idea after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Dr. Nicole Leisgang, chief consulting psychologist for Hamilton County juvenile court, developed the threat assessment tool used.
"We want to try to get to the core of the problem," said Williams. "We want to effect change in the behavioral thinking on the kid. If we don't do that, we really haven't done any good."
Williams said threats against schools always increase after an actual mass shooting in a school, but Leisgang noticed the national standards for these threats hadn't been updated since 2002.
Leisgang's threat assessment tool determines the risk level of the threat and how likely a student may be to act on it. She speaks to students, families and school staff and uses the information, alongside psychological tests and other data.
It also helps her get to the core issues a student might be struggling with that led them to make the threat in the first place.
"Whatever issues that increase that kid's risk, we develop individualized interventions to help reduce or eliminate," said Leisgang.
The Ohio State Bar Association awarded Williams and Hamilton County Juvenile Court its Innovative Programs and Practices award earlier in September. The Bar Association wants to help other courts across Ohio adopt similar programs.
Williams and Leisgang said they are also focused on getting schools involved directly, in the hopes they can use some of the same tools to identify struggling students and get them support before they do anything, like making threats against the school, that might land them in juvenile court.
Northwest Local Schools is one district working with Hamilton County juvenile court in the program; the district said assessing school threats is just one piece of the larger puzzle of student safety and wellness. Northwest already has a social worker on staff and partners with several outside agencies to support kids struggling with many different issues.
"That all those pieces come together to form a mosaic that actually paints a picture of student support and wellness from a holistic perspective," said Darrell Yater, assistant superintendent at Northwest Local School District.