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County expands program to identify school threats

LOS ANGELES — With Southland students preparing to head back to school in the shadow of recent mass shootings, Los Angeles County officials Aug. 12 touted a major expansion in a program aimed at identifying people who could potentially pose a threat and intervening with support services.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger said the county has tripled the size and scope of the School Threat Assessment Response Team, (START).

“I have no doubt that the START program has already saved lives, and this expansion means that we are more prepared than ever to intervene and get help to a troubled student before a violent incident,” Hahn said in a statement.

The START program involves staff from the county Department of Mental Health working with schools and first responders in an effort to prevent potential campus threats from escalating. The team provides training to school staffers, students and parents and works to identify and assess “stated, implied or perceived threats.”

When such potential threats are identified, the team works with schools and law enforcement to intervene and provides services including psychiatric evaluations and provision of mental health programs.

Since the program began in 2009, it has received more than 12,000 referrals, according to the county.

“Preventing campus violence through early identification and intervention is really key,” Barger said. “Since START was created a decade ago, it has made immense progress to help protect our students and provide them with the mental health resources they need.”

Hahn and Barger spoke during a press conference held at Torrance High School, which has recently implemented the START training program with its faculty and staff.

Also attending the press conference was Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

“Our priority as educators is to ensure all children have the safe learning environments they deserve,” Duardo said. “While schools remain among the safest places in our communities, START gives us a vital tool for preventing acts of targeted violence that sadly are on the rise around the nation.”

The county Office of Education provides ongoing training on the START program for school districts throughout the county. It is integrated into the office’s comprehensive safe schools training provided through conferences and workshops, which reach administrators, teachers, counselors, campus security personnel, school resource officers and other school staff countywide.

Teachers, school administrators, school counselors, fellow students, or parents can call START’s 24/7 phone line, (800) 854-7771, with information about a possible threat or concerning behavior. 

START’s mental health professionals can immediately respond to assess the authenticity of the threat, conduct a school visit, visit the student’s home, involve law enforcement if necessary, and connect the student with long-term mental health treatment in order to resolve any problem.

“We cannot afford to miss a red flag,” Hahn said.