- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Five of the state’s largest school districts have investigated more than 400 threats by students this school year and put 40 of them at the highest levels of concern, according to records obtained by The Denver Post.

But more than a month after the fatal shootings at Arapahoe High School, administrators at Littleton Public Schools still won’t say whether a threat made by gunman Karl Pierson in September prompted the district’s highest security response.

In the noon hour on Dec. 13, Pierson, a senior at Arapahoe, entered the school through a door that was propped open. The 18-year-old - armed with a shotgun, a machete, three Molotov cocktails and more than 125 rounds of ammunition - killed student Claire Davis and took his own life inside the library.

Littleton was among school districts across Colorado that bolstered protocols for identifying the severity of threats and fashioned response plans after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Jefferson County left 13 people dead. The two gunmen, both Columbine students, then killed themselves.

Littleton schools did not respond to a request for the number of threats by students, but surrounding districts - Denver, Jefferson County, Cherry Creek, Aurora and Douglas County - provided figures.

Littleton Superintendent Scott Murphy said in a letter to parents and staff Thursday night that any time a threat is made, the district follows its threat-assessment protocol.

The Post obtained a copy of the district’s Threat Assessment and Action Plan through the state’s open-records act. The plan says campus administrators should form a team that includes a counselor; a social worker or psychologist; a teacher who knows the student; and administrators. Law enforcement officers who work at the school district could also be asked to evaluate threats with the team.

Credible threat?

The assessment would gather information from eyewitnesses, academic and discipline records, and observations from staff and parents, and would require a student interview to assess whether a threat is credible.

Members of the team are expected to check off a list of indicators to determine the seriousness of each threat. A threat would be of low concern if it is vague and indirect, lacks details and seems unlikely. The threat would reach a medium level if it contains some thought but is not fully planned out. The highest level of concern suggests that concrete steps have been taken to carry out the threat and there is imminent danger.

Three months before the shooting at Arapahoe High, Pierson directed a threat at his speech and debate coach, Tracy Murphy. The threat was reported to law enforcement, but neither the district nor the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office have explained any other action that was taken.

A lengthy Facebook post by one of the school security guards who responded to the scene called into question the district’s initial response and follow-through.

Scott Murphy has said he supports the actions of Arapahoe administrators and that the online discussions were mostly “based on inaccurate information, rumor and innuendo.” He has declined to comment on the shooting, citing an ongoing investigation by law enforcement.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, said efforts to scale back zero-tolerance policies have heightened tensions over how to properly respond to threats and other discipline-related issues involving students. Earlier this year, the federal government released guidelines intended to limit strict school discipline policies that may disproportionately push minority students into the criminal justice system.

“School administrators in many areas are under an enormous amount of political pressure, internally and externally, to keep their numbers down, which means you are going to have more conflicts with teachers and security personnel who are frustrated that they are not seeing consequences out of the limited tools that are available to principals,” Trump said.

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