MAKING SCHOOLS SAFER
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. Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs. Some schools will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased counseling services. Either way, each district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students.
PUT UP TO 1,000 MORE SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS AND COUNSELORS IN SCHOOLS AND HELP SCHOOLS INVEST IN SAFETY: Putting school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools can help prevent school crime and student-on-student violence. School resource officers are specially trained police officers that work in schools. When equipped with proper training and supported by evidence-based school discipline policies, they can deter crime with their presence and advance community policing objectives. Their roles as teachers and counselors enable them to develop trusting relationships with students that can result in threats being detected and crises averted before they occur. School psychologists, social workers, and counselors can help create a safe and nurturing school climate by providing mental health services to students who need help. Not every school will want police officers or additional school counselors, but we should do what we can to help schools get the staff they determine they need to stay safe.
*Take executive action to provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers: COPS Hiring Grants, which help police departments hire officers, can already be used by departments to fund school resource officers. This year, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments to hire these officers by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.
*Put up to 1,000 new school resource officers and school counselors on the job: The Administration is proposing a new Comprehensive School Safety program, which will help school districts hire staff and make other critical investments in school safety. The program will give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for using school resource officers, including best practices on age-appropriate methods for working with students.
*Invest in other strategies to make our schools safer: School districts could also use these Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment; develop and update public safety plans; conduct threat assessments; and train “crisis intervention teams” of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community to respond to and assist students in crisis. And the General Services Administration will use its purchasing power to help schools buy safety equipment affordably.
ENSURE EVERY SCHOOL HAS A COMPREHENSIVE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PLAN: In the unthinkable event of another school shooting, it is essential that schools have in place effective and reliable plans to respond. A 2010 survey found that while 84 percent of public schools had a written response plan in the event of a shooting, only 52 percent had drilled their students on the plan in the past year. We must ensure that every school has a high-quality plan in place and that students and staff are prepared to follow it.
*Give schools and other institutions a model for how to develop and implement reliable plans: The Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security will release–by May 2013–a set of model, high-quality emergency management plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education, along with best practices for developing these plans and training students and staff to follow them. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Justice, will assist interested schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education in completing their own security assessments.
*Help schools develop and implement emergency plans: Congress should provide $30 million of one-time grants to states to help their school districts develop and implement emergency management plans. But schools also need to take responsibility for getting effective plans in place. Going forward, Congress should require states and school districts that receive school safety funding from the Department of Education to have comprehensive, up-to-date emergency plans in place for all of their schools.
CREATE A SAFER CLIMATE AT SCHOOLS ACROSS THE COUNTRY: A report issued by the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education after the Columbine shooting found that one of the best things schools can do to reduce violence and bullying is to improve a school’s climate and increase trust and communication between students and staff. Fortunately, we already have evidence-based strategies which have been found to reduce bullying and other problem behaviors like drug abuse or poor attendance, while making students feel safer at school and improving academic performance.
*Help 8,000 schools create safer and more nurturing school climates: With technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put in place evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. These strategies involve certain steps for the whole school (like consistent rules and rewards for good behavior), with more intensive steps for groups of students exhibiting at-risk behavior, and individual services for students who continue to exhibit troubling behavior. The Administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement these strategies. The Administration will also develop a school climate survey, providing reliable data to help schools implement policies to improve climate.
*Share best practices on school discipline: Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. As a result, effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. The Department of Education will collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline polices and help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies.
IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
As President Obama said, “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun.” Today, less half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. While the vast majority of Americans with a mental illness are not violent, several recent mass shootings have highlighted how some cases of mental illness can develop into crisis situations if individuals do not receive proper treatment. We need to do more than just keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness; we need to identify mental health issues early and help individuals get the treatment they need before these dangerous situations develop.
MAKE SURE STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS GET TREATMENT FOR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES: Three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. And several recent mass shootings, including those at Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, were perpetrated by students or other young people.
*Reach 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment: We need to train teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services. The Administration is calling for a new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), to provide this training and set up systems to provide these referrals. This initiative, which would reach 750,000 young people, has two parts:
—Provide “Mental Health First Aid” training for teachers: Project AWARE includes $15 million for training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults, including how to encourage adolescents and families experiencing these problems to seek treatment.
—Make sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment: Project AWARE also includes $40 million to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues or other behavioral issues are referred to the services they need. This initiative builds on strategies that, for over a decade, have proven to decrease violence in schools and increase the number of students receiving mental health services.
*Support individuals ages 16 to 25 at high risk for mental illness: Efforts to prevent school shootings and other gun violence can’t end when a student leaves high school. Individuals ages 16 to 25 are at high risk for mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide, but they are among the least likely to seek help. Even those who received services as a child may fall through the cracks when they turn 18. The Administration is proposing $25 million for innovative state-based strategies supporting young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues.
*Helping schools address pervasive violence: Twenty-two percent of 14 to 17 year olds have witnessed a shooting in their lifetime. Research shows that exposure to community violence can impact children¡¦s mental health and development and can substantially increase the likelihood that these children will later commit violent acts themselves. To help schools break the cycle of violence, Congress should provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies.
*Train more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults: Experts often cite the shortage of mental health service providers as one reason it can be hard to access treatment. To help fill this gap, the Administration is proposing $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. This would provide stipends and tuition reimbursement to train more than 5,000 mental health professionals serving young people in our schools and communities.
*Launch a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health: The sense of shame and secrecy associated with mental illness prevents too many people from seeking help. The President is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders.