In the aftermath of school shootings, many schools look to what options they have in their states to help keep their communities safe. Schools work hard to ensure that they are safe spaces for students to learn and grow. Teachers, administrators, school mental health professionals, and School Resource Officers (SROs) are uniquely poised to see when students and colleagues are in distress or even at-risk of committing violence to themselves or others.

In this section, learn how to understand the signs for when a student may be in crisis and at risk of harming themselves or others, how Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) and Mental Health Referral Pathway plans are excellent mechanisms for ERPOs in responding to students in crisis, and how to safely share information about students while respecting their HIPPA and FERPA privacy rights.

ERPOs and School Safety

Why ERPOs

Extreme risk protection orders are designed to prevent tragedies by temporarily restricting access to firearms to those who pose a risk of harming themselves or others. In a school context, ERPOs can be used to respond to school shooter threats or instances where someone has brought weapons into the school. Studies have shown that ERPOs have been used in response to mass shooting threats, including school shootings. Additionally, ERPOs may be filed in response to students at risk of suicide. By restricting access to firearms, ERPOs buy time for students in crisis and their support networks to get the help and resources they need.

Who Can File

Only in California, Colorado, Hawaii, and New York can educators and school employees petition for extreme risk protection orders. That said, there are still ways in which schools in other states can engage with ERPO laws and develop protocols for when and how to use ERPOs to promote school safety. In every state with an ERPO law, law enforcement officers, usually including SROs, are able to file a petition. Many states empower family members and legal guardians to file an ERPO petition. In states where healthcare providers may file, a school nurse or mental health professional may also be able to file. For a full list of states with ERPOs and who can file a petition in each, click HERE.

ERPOs and Juveniles

ERPOs are designed to temporarily restrict access to firearms from individuals at risk of committing harm, including juveniles. In many states, juveniles are already prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. Still, ERPOs may be a relevant intervention for youth at risk of harming themselves or others. Juveniles served an ERPO may age into firearm ownership eligibility during the duration of an ERPO. They might have firearms at home, owned by a parent, guardian, or other family member, in which case some states require assurances that the legal owner store firearms away from the access of the person served an ERPO. There are also instances where a juvenile is possessing a firearm illegally, in which case an ERPO may still be filed.

Additional Information

This video and document discuss key takeaways to know about ERPOs and how they may be used to prevent school safety threats.

This memo from the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program reviews research into mass shootings and how ERPOs are being used to prevent further tragedies.

This article from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health stresses the importance of ERPOs as suicide prevention tools, especially for teen suicide prevention.

In this episode of the Progress Report Podcast, hosted by the National Center for School Safety, learn more about ERPOs and their impact on school safety.

ERPO Interventions in Schools

When implementing ERPO protocols in schools, two existing mechanisms which may be the most effective methods are Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) and Mental Health Referral Pathways. Below, learn more about these methodologies and how ERPOs may fit into them as an additional interventions for students in crisis.

Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management

Mental Health Referral Pathways

What is Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management?

Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management (BTAM) is a form of violence risk assessment that looks at potential threats of harm made by individuals to determine if the threat is serious and implement interventions to reduce the risk of a threat being carried out. In a school context, a multidisciplinary team works together to assess potentially threatening behavior and promote safety and prevent violence that may impact the school community. BTAM is not intended to be punitive, and focuses on connecting individuals at-risk of violence to help resources and services. This one-pager from the National Center for School Safety (NCSS) provides a top level view of the threat assessment process. This best practices guide from the National Association of School Psychologists provides a highly detailed resources for BTAM procedures and guidelines.

What are Mental Health Referral Pathways?

Mental Health Referral Pathways, as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in their comprehensive Mental Health Referral Pathways Toolkit defines the process as “the series of actions or steps taken after identifying a youth with a potential mental health issue.” SAMHSA’s widely adopted model bases its Mental Health Referral Pathway process on a multitiered system of support “defined by (a) the precision and intensity of assessment involved in assigning students to intervention conditions, (b) the dosage of intervention provided to match the presenting mental health need, and (c) the number of students targeted by the intervention.” In practice, this model is structured into three tiers of interventions, with the first tier being generalizable, universally accessible social and emotional learning programs, and the third tier being individually-focused, intensive interventions for students with acute social, emotional, or behavioral health needs. In situations when school resources are unable to provide the student with the mental health needs they require, referrals to community mental health providers may be considered.

How ERPOs fit into BTAM protocols

Once threat assessment teams have identified and determined that there is a credible threat to school safety, they have a variety of interventions they can use depending on the nature and severity of the threat. ERPOs are a civil court-ordered removal of firearms, and should be considered a relevant intervention in instances where a student poses a credible threat to commit harm to either themselves or others in the near future. It is important to note that ERPOs only restrict access to firearms; other interventions to ensure school safety, especially if the threat is imminent or emergent, should be employed on a case-by-case basis. Resources and services that the individual in crisis may need should also be reviewed and provided appropriately.

How ERPOs fit into Mental Health Referral Pathways

It is up to school mental health teams to identify students in crisis and work with them and their support networks for appropriate interventions. If a school mental health team has identified a student is in crisis and may have access to firearms currently or in the near future, the team may determine whether an ERPO is an appropriate intervention to limit the student’s access to lethal means. Other interventions, such as referring the student to community healthcare providers if the situation is emergent, should be utilized if necessary.

Filing ERPOs in Response to Students in Crisis

 As previously mentioned in this section, educators and school administrators cannot file petitions in most states. For ERPOs filed in either in response to threats of violence or students in crisis, threat assessment and mental health teams may consider approaching law enforcement to file an ERPO petition. In many cases, SROs are immediately accessible members of law enforcement and may file the petition themselves. Law enforcement are always able to file an ERPO in states with the law. In some states, licensed mental health professionals are also eligible to file.

It is highly recommended to maintain thorough records of any threat assessment or mental health referral cases in accordance with HIPPA and FERPA guidelines. For ERPO petitions, threat assessment and mental health records may provide crucial information for the court in determining whether an ERPO order is appropriate. For more information on how to disclose protected student information, go to the HIPPA and FERPA Compliance section on this page.

Additional Resources

Safe Information sharing

Anonymous Reporting Systems (ARS)

An ARS (such as a tip line or hotline) is one strategy that may encourage students and community members to come forward with information on potential acts of school violence without fear of retaliation. Information disclosed in an ARS may be relevant in determining the need for an ERPO or other mental health and law enforcement interventions.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

If you are experiencing a crisis, please text or call 988.

The content of this website is not legal advice and is only intended for general informational purposes. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney.