Mass Shootings Work Group focuses on mental health resources in schools

KeepHealthCare.ORG – Mass Shootings Work Group focuses on mental health resources in schools

The Washington Mass Shootings Work Group met with educational administrators to discuss school safety and mass shooting prevention on Wednesday at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The work group heard from a panel of administrators from rural and urban school districts in the state on what their districts are doing to keep kids safe in schools and where they believe work still needs to be done.

The 2018 supplemental operating budget passed by the legislature in March allocated $50,000 to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) to establish the Mass Shootings Work Group. The group is charged with developing strategies to identify and intervene against possible mass shooting perpetrators. The budget also specifies that the group evaluate strategies of other states, take stock of services available for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, and submit a report to the legislature on their findings and recommendations.

While several of the panelists briefly mentioned security options such as video cameras, electronic locks, or fencing, the conversation mostly centered around providing mental health support in schools and creating a positive school environment for students.

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Every administrator on the panel agreed that having access to school counselors and mental health services is extremely important for school safety. Not only to identify potential at-risk students, but also to move forward with the next steps on how to provide support and get them the help they need. But for many schools, there isn’t enough funding available. This is especially true for places like the Battle Ground School District, where Prairie High School Principal Travis Drake says their recent bond, which included several safety measures, has failed to pass multiple times.

Katrina Hunt, Assistant Principal at Garfield High School in Seattle, also says that more on-site mental and behavioral health support needs to be available in elementary and middle schools. Earlier interventions to assist children with social and emotional development can give them the coping skills they need as they move through the K-12 system.

Parent involvement is also important. Albert Alcantar, Director of Safety and Athletics in the Vancouver School District, says his district has a threat assessment program where they can identify at-risk kids and take concrete actions to get them support. One of the first steps of the program is to meet with the child’s parent to discuss support options or mental health services. However, Alcantar says the majority of the time, parents don’t follow through with getting their child help. Hunt agreed, saying she has seen multiple instances in her district where “parents don’t want their kids to be seen as needing these services.”

Kim Reykdal, the School Counseling Program Supervisor at OSPI, discussed the importance of having an interdisciplinary support system available for students. She noted that school counselors aren’t trained to provide in-depth mental health support for students. Instead, a system of school psychologists, law enforcement, counselors, and nurses are needed to identify and support students.

The administrators also all advocated for more school resource officers (SROs). SROs are members of law enforcement that are dedicated to working in schools. For the administrators on the panel who have SROs in their districts, they say the officers act as a deterrent to crime, form positive relationships with students, and provide an additional resource for students, teachers, and administrators in times of crisis.

The Mass Shooting Work Group will continue to meet throughout the year in their preparation to submit their report to the legislature on December 1, 2018. You can watch Wednesday’s full meeting here.


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