SB 906 on homicide threats creates obligations for board members who regularly interact with students in grades 6-12

On July 21, 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved Senate Bill 906 which seeks to address homicidal threats in middle and high schools. The bill is a response to school shootings in the United States and data suggesting that 93 percent of school shooters planned their attacks in advance and exhibited concerning behavior and communications. The bill, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023, adds Sections 49390 through 49395 to the Education Code. The bill requires “school officials” of any school district, county office of education, or charter school to immediately report homicidal threats, or perceived homicidal threats, they have observed or been alerted to law enforcement. This obligation applies only to local educational agencies that serve pupils in any grades from 6-12 as part of a middle school or high school [emphasis added]. The bill contains some key definitions that will affect how these new Education Codes are implemented.

“School official” is defined as including certificated or classified employee and board members of LEAs (including school districts and county offices of education) whose official duties bring the individual in contact with pupils in any of grades 6-12 as part of a middle school or high school, on a regular basis. The bill does not define “on a regular basis.” While it is easy to see the application to teachers and classified staff who serve on school campuses with the relevant grade levels, it is more difficult to discern whether board members’ duties bring them in contact with these students “on a regular basis.” Arguably, this could mean if the board has a student board member that attends monthly board meetings, board members are obligated to report threats.

The definition of “threat or perceived threat” is broad. It is defined as any writing or action by a student that creates a reasonable suspicion the student is preparing to commit a homicidal act related to school or a school activity. (While not defined in the bill, homicide is generally defined as causing the death of another.) The threat may include possession, use or depictions of firearms, ammunition, shootings or targets in association with infliction of physical harm, destruction or death in a social media post, journal, class note or other media associated with the pupil. “Reasonable suspicion” is articulated facts, together with rational inferences from those facts, warranting an objective suspicion.

Given the above, teachers and administrators are certainly more likely to observe threatening behavior than board members. However, it is possible that the obligation applies to board members, depending upon the level of their contact with students in the relevant grade levels. Like mandated reporting of child abuse, it is a good idea to err on the side of reporting, even if a board member may not technically be obligated to report. This is because the bill provides that LEAs are immune from civil liability for damages allegedly caused by, or arising out of, or relating to the requirements of the bill. In other words, a student and their parents could not sue an LEA for any damages that result from reporting a homicidal threat. This protects school officials, Note that if two or more officials both have the obligation to report, they can agree that only one will report.

The bill contains additional provisions, as follows:

  • Upon receiving notification of a threat by a school official, law enforcement must conduct an investigation and threat assessment. The investigation and threat assessment must include a review of the Department of Justice’s firearm registry and a search conducted at the school site, but “only if the search is justified by a reasonable suspicion that it would produce evidence related to the threat or perceived threat.”
  • LEAs must support law enforcement with investigating the threat and conducting a threat assessment.
  • Starting in the 2023–24 school year, all LEAs (regardless of grade level served) must include information about the safe storage of firearms in the annual notifications that LEAs are obligated to send to parents. The requirements for the parental notification are contained in Assembly Bill 452 (Friedman, DGlendale) which is on its way to the Governor for signature.
  • The parental notice required by LEAs must be informed by model content that the bill requires CDE to create and distribute by July 1, 2023.