Langley groups team up for school safety

Nine government and community groups in Langley have inked a deal to work together to prevent violence in schools.

Partner groups signed the Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) protocol at the Jan. 28 school board meeting.

“VTRA is a way to address problems before they start,” explained Claire Guy, assistant superintendent. “It’s a group problem solving effort.”

The protocol creates a formal structure that these groups haven’t had in the past to deal with at-risk youth.

“Most importantly it puts supports in place for our students,” Guy said.

Signing onto the agreement are the school district, the Langley RCMP; Fraser Valley Aboriginal Child, Family Support Services; the Ministry of Children and Family Development; Fraser Health; the Community Justice Initiatives Association BC; Langley Youth and Family Services; Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services; and Options Community Services.

The deal formalizes work that started three years ago with school district staff taking VTRA and in turn training other staff. 

As more training was done, community partners were included and about 150 people have been trained and the protocol agreement was hammered out.

“It’s quite a special and unique thing for us,” Guy said.

Together the signatories work together to decide on actions for dealing with children who are showing disturbing behaviours that pose a risk for the child, staff or the community.

There are six or eight other school districts in B.C. and many across Canada using VTRA protocols or other inter-agency agreements.

The groups involved will often deal with sensitive information.

“Ideally those involved in a Violence Threat Risk Assessment protocol would have parental consent going into discussions with the other agencies. The protocol is ‘levelled’ and information is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis,” Guy told the Langley Advance after the meeting.

Another aspect of this is the publicly posted ‘Fair Notice’ document that was posted at local public schools.

It spells out the district violence policy. It also indicates that “investigation may involve the police and/or other community agencies” and which provides notice that information in regard to threats may be shared, she said.

“Further there are a number of precedents where maintaining public safety can supersede an individual’s privacy concerns when threatening behaviour is demonstrated,” Guy told the Advance

“There is a real sensitivity to respect privacy but there may come a time when we wouldn’t jeopardize school and student safety to protect the privacy of an individual.”

After press time, the Advance received additional information about the program from Guy.

"There are no ongoing costs associated with the protocol as it is a ‘process’ that is engaged when a situation involving threatening behaviour warrants it. Costs incurred in reaching the point of finalizing this protocol agreement have been related to the training. The costs have been covered under regular staff development and training budgets. We also now have staff that are able to provide the training to other staff should we wish to increase the number of people with the training, at no further costs.

"VTRA is not disciplinary process, it is an assessment and it’s about bringing the parents on board early on when an intervention may be necessary. If we are talking about the individual that is demonstrating the threatening behaviour, they would have little appeal as to whether an assessment was being conducted as it is an investigation into a potential threat. This would be the same for a parent of an individual – a threat assessment may move forward with or without consent as it is in the interest of safety for a school or community. Again though, ideally the parents would be a cooperative part of the process. A VTRA may lead to some sort of disciplinary action like arrest, hospitalization or other supportive interventions that may have an appeal process but the investigative process itself would not," Guy said.

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