How Crisis Plans Help Schools Handle Violent and Aggressive Behavior

Maintaining safe schools is your district’s legal responsibility. Developing and following procedures for handling students’ violent and aggressive behavior in school is a major part of meeting that responsibility.

According to the latest available data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • In 2017, about 20% of students ages 12–18 reported having been bullied at school—and 41% of them said they thought it would happen again.
  • 9% of students in grades 9-12 reported having been in a physical fight on school property.
  • In the 2015-16 academic year, 4% of public school teachers reported having experienced physical aggression from students.

Female behavioral therapist sits next to upset elementary school boy in classroom and places her hand on his shoulder.

These statistical snapshots actually represent decreases from previous years. Even so, they highlight the kinds of behavior schools must be ready to handle.

As a special education administrator, you’re likely already more than aware of student violence. After all, teachers who work with students in special education tend to bear a greater risk of being physically assaulted—nearly three times greater than general education teachers, one study found.

At the same time, you know the children and youth you serve don’t need the unhelpful, stigma-reinforcing “aggressive students” label, but interventions that help them master social and emotional skills for more positive outcomes.

Laws dealing with schools’ responsibilities for dealing with student violence are complicated. We at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) advise the districts we work with to consult attorneys experienced in education law when setting procedures and drafting policies. We advise you to do so, too.

But we do want to offer some guidance about one way your program can and should be preparing to deal with violent and aggressive student behavior: developing Crisis Intervention Plans.

What Crisis Plans for Aggressive Student Behavior Include

A Crisis Intervention Plan outlines specific actions to take when a student’s behavior puts the student or others at risk of harm.

These actions aren’t punitive. They are proactive supports designed to keep the student’s dangerous behavior from escalating.

No “one size fits all” plan exists. But The PACER Center (a training and information center for families of children and youth with disabilities) identifies six key elements of a Crisis Intervention Plan:

  • Baseline of positive behavior
    Having accurate information about how the student looks and acts when not in crisis will help teachers and other staff recognize when the student may need help. 
  • Female middle school student sits with arms folded as two girls behind glare at her and boy in back of class throws paper at her.List of triggers that could escalate the challenging behavior
    When teachers know what words, gestures, or situations could aggravate a student’s problem behavior, they’ll be better able to head off crises before they develop. They’ll also know what responses to avoid.
  • Description of student’s appearance when the behavior is increasing
    Signs of crisis can vary from student to student, so the plan spells out what indicators staff should look for so they can intervene sooner before a challenging behavior escalates.
  • Specific actions that have helped calm past behavior problems
    The plan gives practical, concrete guidance on what actions have previously helped the student replace the undesired behavior with a desired one.
  • Strategies the student feels may help prevent a crisis
    Giving students a say in their plan not only makes the plan more effective. It also empowers them because it highlights the fact that they’re not helpless in the face of their own behaviors.
  • Contact information for people who can be asked to help
    The plan clearly identifies how and when to contact family members, health professionals, and other appropriate individuals who can be called upon to help support the student in a crisis.

Like a Behavior Intervention Plan, the Crisis Intervention Plan is a part of the student’s IEP. As such, students and their families should be as much a part of developing it as are teachers, administrators, and related service providers.

Let PTS Help Your Program Support Students in Crisis More Effectively

Crisis Intervention Plans are specific examples of how implementing positive behavior support as part of a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) can improve and enhance everyone’s school experience.

When students are facing times of emotional difficulty, these plans can:

  • Reduce the risk of physical harm to themselves and their classmates, and to teachers and other building staff.
  • Give staff a road map to follow for guiding students through times of emotional difficulty.
  • Mitigate crises’ lasting psychological effects by handling students’ aggressive or violent behavior—not students themselves—as the problem.

If you’d like to find out more about how PTS can help your district nurture a safer learning environment for everyone by promoting positive behavioral interventions, give us a call today at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.

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