Leon County Schools has debuted its comprehensive school safety program to be implemented this school year. Many of the updates are mandated by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed last Session.
Students can expect an officer in every district school, thanks to an expanded School Resource Deputy program in Leon County and off-duty detail in City schools.
The district received about $2.5 million dollars from the Legislature for school security, and about $850,000 locally for mental health services that will put a counselor on every campus. A keystone of the district’s mental health plan is what it calls “early screening and intervention.”
John Hunkiar, head of safety and security for LCS, says every student will be screened.
“The screening tool is a research-based instrument that, after a certain period of time, each classroom teacher will identify their observations,” Hunkiar said. “And they’ll put it on an assessment tool, and if there’s a particular score, it gets sent to the additional team.”
The “team” Hunkiar is referencing is a combination of district administration, counselors, law enforcement officers and others who can provide an “intervention” for troubled students. The student’s parents will be brought in to the intervention process.
To Superintendent Rocky Hanna, the new system has potential to be especially impactful at the high school level.
“A lot of times in our high schools, because they’re in isolation – they go from their English class, to math class to science class – teachers don’t talk a lot about kids with mental health concerns,” Hanna said. “So now, the high school people are going to be engaged. And if they do have a child they feel is in crisis, they’ll refer them to this team, this intervention team.”
Hanna says an expanded partnership with behavioral health nonprofit DISC Village has mbolstered the district's ability to provide counseling.
“DISC Village was already providing us mental health counselors in all of our middle and high schools at about $1 million dollars and we are so grateful. So we’ve hired nine additional mental health counselors that will work in our elementary schools,” Hanna said. “We’ve added three social workers with that money. And we have a director of mental health services now, Tonja Fitzgerald, who’s a former principal at Cobb.”
The district has also added more unarmed, non-teaching staff to patrol campus. The position has previously been on school campuses. But it has never been in the district staffing plan until now.
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