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SD Offers Schools Free CSTAG Training to Increase School Safety; No Pistols Necessary

Hauling bodyguards along with her to Ben Reifel Middle School last Friday isn’t Kristi Noem’s only demonstration of concern about safety in schools. On Thursday, the state announced it has grant funds (likely federal) available for schools to “increase school safety through threat assessment training.”

The program will not include training in avoiding the Governor’s use of students as photo opps for her campaign to stay in power and undermine public education, which campaign I would contend is a greater threat to the security of our schools than any young knucklehead with a BB gun. The program administered by Navigate 360—”the leader in holistic safety and wellness solutions and South Dakota’s “Partner in Proactive School Safety“—will train School Threat Assessment teams to better prevent suicide and targeted violence using Dr. Dewey Cornell’s Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines. At no cost to themselves, South Dakota school districts can get four to six hours of asynchronous online training in CSTAG Level 1. Participants who pass the Level 1 exam can then take the synchronous Level 2 training, which Dr. Cornell or one of his trainers conducts in-person or live online.

Dr. Cornell’s website on school threat assessment indicates that CSTAG is an evidence-based alternative to zero-tolerance policies that recognizes the best way to keep schools safe is to stop violence from occurring (rather than South Dakota’s nutty and non-evidence-based approach of arming teachers and training for shoot-outs):

School shootings have generated a widespread misconception that schools are not safe. On the contrary, national crime statistics show that school-age children are safer from shootings at school than almost any other location. However, there are many situations where students threaten to commit a violent act, and educators must make every effort to keep students and staff safe. Educators do not want to over-react to student threats that are not serious, yet they must recognize and take action in response to a serious threat. This is why leading authorities in education, law enforcement, and mental health recommend that schools use a systematic approach called threat assessment.

Since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, schools have spent billions of dollars in security measures to make their schools “hard targets” against shootings. However, prevention must start before there is a gunman at the school door. Prevention means building a supportive school climate, helping students in distress, and taking appropriate protective action before a conflict or problem escalates into violence. Schools do not need to predict who is going to commit a violent act if they focus on identifying and helping students in need of assistance. Our model of threat assessment is a problem-solving approach that involves both assessment and intervention to prevent violence [Dewey G. Cornell, “Training in School-Based Threat Assessment,” School Threat Assessment website, retrieved 2021.11.22].

Dr. Cornell and his team of practicing psychologists say their Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines do more than prevent outbreaks of gun violence:

Our research, conducted through the University of Virginia and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, shows that schools using threat assessment have resolved thousands of threats without serious injury. Moreover, schools using our model of threat assessment have substantial reductions in the use of school suspension and lower rates of bullying. On school climate surveys, students and teachers report feeling safer than in schools not using threat assessment. Finally, school staff representing administration, instruction, mental health, and law enforcement all report high levels of satisfaction, knowledge, and motivation regarding the use of threat assessment after attending our workshops [Cornell, 2021.11.22].

The CSTAG start with a triage process that distinguishes transient threats from substantive threats:

A threat assessment begins when a threat is reported to the principal or any other member of the school’s threat assessment team. The assessment begins with a triage process to determine whether the threat can be quickly and easily resolved as a transient threat that does not pose a serious threat of violence (most cases) or will require more extensive assessment and intervention as a substantive threat. Transient threats are often statements that do not express a serious intent to harm someone, and can range from joking comments to momentary expressions of frustration. Transient threats are usually resolved when a student calms down and apologizes. The manual contains a chapter on transient threats with numerous examples of how these kinds of cases are resolved. Equally important, we have extensive research showing that these cases ARE resolved without violence and without disciplinary over-reaction to the student’s misbehavior.

Substantive threats are by definition threats where there is a serious intent to harm someone. Substantive threats are divided into serious substantive threats involving a fight or assault and very serious substantive threats that involve a threat to kill, rape, or use a weapon to inflict severe injury. In cases of very serious substantive threats, the team will want to conduct a mental health assessment of the student and consult with law enforcement. Fewer than 10% of threats rise to this level. The manual spells out the kinds of protective actions that schools should take, including the notification of threatened individuals. There is also a detailed description of how a safety plan can be formulated, documented, and implemented to prevent violence. The manual includes numerous case examples and explains the actions that school teams should consider. Our research shows that school teams can reliably distinguish substantive threats from transient threats and take appropriate action to prevent violence from taking place [“Threat Assessment Manual,”, retrieved 2021.11.22].

Cornell boils the CSTAG into this five-step decision tree:

CSTAG Decision Tree, from, retrieved, 2021.11.22.
CSTAG Decision Tree, from, retrieved, 2021.11.22.

Obviously there’s more to the program than just reading this worksheet and following the steps, and that more is what schools should get from this grant-funded training. But Cornell’s team notes that Steps 1 and 2 will suffice for 99% of school threats:

In summary, across hundreds of cases in multiple studies we have found that 99% of threats made by students who receive a threat assessment are not carried out. The small number of threats that were carried out involved fights that resulted in no serious injury. We have also found that only about 1% of these students are expelled from school and only about 1% are arrested. Most threats are resolved without school suspension and the overwhelming majority of students are able to continue in their original school [“Evidence,”, retrieved 2021.11.22].

And—don’t let Kristi hear about this—training in and application of CSTAG appears to help schools reduce systemic racism:

Across multiple studies, schools have seen a decrease in their use of suspension out of school, both for the students who receive a threat assessment AND for the general student population. We have also seen reductions in the racial disparities in school suspension, especially the higher rate of suspension for Black students compared to White students [“Evidence,”, retrieved 2021.11.22].

All that without any school official or political candidate’s bodyguard having to fire a single shot. Put down your guns, teachers and janitors, and sign up for some training that works against real threats to school safety.


  1. O 2021-11-22 13:50

    How about throw more money at schools to allow them to teach? Defund the schools makes as little sense as defund the police – the big difference is that the GOP acted on their defunding mantra.

  2. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-11-22 15:10

    I only got as far as “holistic” before my brain started shrieking. I’m too old to put with this abuse.

  3. Mark Anderson 2021-11-22 18:06

    Send lawyers guns and money. You’ll get out of this. Could a black 17 year old been allowed to be armed patrol in Wisconsin and kill two people wound another and get away with it? Ridiculous right.? I imagine all my grade school teachers armed. It’s just a total laugh. Just question the students and allow all the Kyle’s to carry, no problem. Very safe school right? Is there anything that Republicans can’t screw up? Well, I’ve got my oath keepers call coming in, bye, bye.

  4. Porter Lansing 2021-11-22 18:56

    What percentage of school shooters gave indications, in school, they were about to kill?
    None, that I know of.
    Some gave clues as to their deviant behavior outside school, which were almost always overlooked because weird kids do that, all the time.

    Handicapping SD School Mass Murder:
    Which South Dakota school system will be first to suffer a mass killer?
    Sioux Falls? 8 to 1 odds
    Rapid City? 7 to 1 odds
    Vermillion-Brookings-Aberdeen-Madison? 6 to 1 odds
    Watertown-Huron? 4 to 1 odds
    Pierre? 2 to 1 odds *ding ding ding The most unstable, supremacist people live in Pierre and their kids don’t learn about hate in the pool hall.

  5. DaveFN 2021-11-22 23:06

    Yep, treat the most transient versus substantial threat as a pretext to exercise our gun and self-defense rights. Let’s just shoot ourselves up all around. Appeals to the visceral-minded amongst the South Dakota population, of which there is no lack. Freud’s death drive made manifest within our own little hamlet. Ammosexuals are its incarnation.

  6. ArloBlundt 2021-11-23 00:05

    Porter–I think your handicapping is in poor taste, even for a free wheeling sight like this one.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-23 05:52

    No just poor taste, Arlo, but utterly without basis in the evidence that schools are still the place where kids are least likely to be shot.. Claims like Porter’s, even if rooted in a critique of South Dakota’s gun culture, only encourage the machismo-misdirected overreactions to imagined threats and the ignorance of real safety and mental health concerns.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-23 05:55

    While Cornell’s CSTAG seems more reasonable than South Dakota’s duck-and-cover-and-shoot-back overreactions, I am open to debating whether the (again, probably federal) money the state is throwing at these training could be better used to support direct instruction. To what extent does regular training for teachers and administrators already cover the psychology, classroom discipline, and conflict management skills that this training appears to reinforce?

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-23 05:56

    Bonnie, yes, there is a dose of marketing-speak on the Navigate360 website. Still, once I push through that, I get the impression there is some reasonable science behind what the company is selling.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-23 06:02

    Mike! Great connection! Even if we can get Kristi over the crazy-hump that may link anti-CRT to anti-counseling sentiment, that comment from those Texas opponents of suicide prevention—”Leave mental health and parenting to the parents”—implicates Noem’s own parents-first ruse that she uses to undermine and underfund public education. Dr. Cornell’s language suggests a more progressive approach to school discipline that doesn’t fit well with the rhetoric the SDGOP uses in talking about schools and school safety. I could easily see Gordon Howie’s blog and the Rapid City school board attacking Dr. Cornell and his highly educated team’s approach to school violence as creeping socialism and leftist indoctrination.

  11. Porter Lansing 2021-11-23 10:24

    Gentlemen and ladies –

    My handicapping is a statement about liberalism in South Dakota, not your gun culture.

    My little town is where the first school shooting (Columbine) took place and several more have followed, in my metro region.

    I believe Cory’s overlooking the almost certainty that it will happen where you live to be what’s in poor taste as well as “head in the sand” neglect.

  12. O 2021-11-23 10:34

    Porter’s comment is a grim reminder that although they do not even warrant headlines, school shootings are very much still a scourge in America’s gun zealot culture. How many of the 138 incidents of gun fire at schools and how many of the 28 deaths and 80 injuries even make the news anymore?

    Harrisburg and Rapid City’s experiences ought not be forgotten. In fact, given the heightened threatened violence of radicals at school board meetings, it may not be the students targeted now. Schools continue to be the front lines of the GOP culture war; that has real ramifications for student and staff safety.

  13. Porter Lansing 2021-11-23 12:11

    Why did Columbine happen? What motivated two liberal boys to murder their classmates and a teacher? This question so intrigued the film maker and social observer Michael Moore that he came to my little town to investigate. We in the town have no doubt thought about this question as much or more than any little town in America. Especially me, because my daughter was acquaintances with the killers. They were the same age and hung out at the same mall.
    These two boys were so intimidated by bullies in their school that they wore trench coats and acted the part of “secret society” members, as a cloak of deception, designed to deter those who alienate people different from themselves.
    Bullying from athletic team members got so bad, these boys snapped. The medication for depression they were taking no doubt contributed to that decision.
    Are there right-wing kids in South Dakota, capable of urinating (in public) on something they disagree with? Are there bullies in school systems who are tolerated and ignored? Do students demean and insult Indian kids at sporting events? Does rampant, hateful Trumpism exist among students in SD schools?
    Do you think South Dakota schools are the safest place your children and grandchildren go, every day?
    Discussion is open.

  14. cibvet 2021-11-23 12:37

    Ever notice some of the first words after a shooting, from law enforcement or parents are ” I never thought it could happen here”.

  15. Porter Lansing 2021-11-23 14:24

    @cibvet – That’s most often what’s thought in places new to it, and where active shooter drills hadn’t been conducted.
    The last school shooting (fourth in 20 years) in my little town was foiled by a student.
    He’d been through years and years of active shooter drills and had thought long and hard about what he’d do, given the opportunity to save his fellow classmates.
    He wasn’t alone, among his peers.
    He and several other males jumped the shooters and held them down until the school cop arrived.
    Unfortunately, the young man was killed in the process of saving kids and adults.
    One of the shooters turned state’s evidence against the other.
    Both are in juvenile prison but for different lengths of time, before being transferred to state prison.

  16. mike from iowa 2021-11-23 16:05

    Cory, if memory serves it was magats of the magat persuasion that said to blame mass shootings, not on guns, but on mental health issues.That line must not have worked so well.

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