Students guilty of making school threats getting help through teen court program

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A counseling program aimed at addressing mental health-related issues has been helping teenagers avoid suspensions or expulsions after making threats against students or schools.

At Reach For Youth, leaders say they've had at least three cases in recent months regarding school threats in the area.

Since the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, which left 17 people dead, there has been more than 20 arrests made following threats at area schools.

The agency runs a teen court program, which allows students to take part in after pleading guilty to their crime and getting a referral from school officials.

“We try to address these threats that isn’t stigmatizing youth but it is really providing them a path to have access to needed care," said Aaron McBride, the agency's director of teen court and program services. "We're really giving youth a second chance if a mistake is made."

McBride and the agency's counselors say some students may post a threat to copy what they've seen in the news. Other times, it's done as a way to express their mood, and they don't understand any other way to get their feelings out.

“They’ve learned how to lash out, or how to say mean things to people, they use what is comfortable for them," said therapist Shanae Kelley.

Once a student is in the program, a student's peers become jurors. Those students can tell how a threat affected more than just the person who made it.

“We come up with constructive consequences with youth who are referred to us," McBride said. "Ultimately, we are focusing on accountability and being able to outline specific examples to how that youth’s actions not only affected them but affected others and the community.”

The agency brings a student's family in too. The goal is to better understand what students are thinking, and to spot a person who is upset before a threat is made.

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