President: Mental health key to school safety
January 16, 2013 | By Kathryn Baron | 4 Comments
President Obama wants to add up to 1,000 more mental health counselors and safety officers in the nation’s schools to improve safety. The President’s plan for gun control, released Wednesday morning and based on the recommendations of Vice President Joe Biden’s commission, calls for creation of a Comprehensive School Safety Program that seeks to prevent school fighting and bullying as well as violent attacks on schools.
The program, developed in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, including 20 first grade children, would make available $150 million through grants for school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school psychologists, social workers, counselors and school resource officers. It’s up to individual districts whether they want to apply for these funds, but California alone has about a thousand districts.
“We need to make our schools safer, not only by enhancing their physical security and making sure they are prepared to respond to emergencies like a mass shooting, but also by creating safer and more nurturing school climates that help prevent school violence,” according to the plan, titled Now Is the Time.
The plan also cites a report by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education following the Columbine shooting that found one of the best ways of reducing school violence is by creating an environment that fosters trust and communication between staff and students, improves attendance and reduces dangerous behavior, such as drug abuse.
The president is also recommending a new initiative called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) that would provide $15 million to train teachers and staff to recognize mental health issues in children and young adults and encourage them to seek professional help. Another $40 million in Project AWARE would go toward collaboration among school districts, mental health agencies and law enforcement to ensure that students are referred to the appropriate agencies to get the help they need.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the report. “The actions that the president is taking and proposing to reduce gun violence echo what America’s educators say they need to better protect and support students in school and in their communities,” said Duncan.
Responding directly to school shootings, the plan requires every school to have a comprehensive emergency management plan and recommends that Congress provide $30 million in one-time grants to help schools pay for implementing these plans.