Education Week - January 23, 2013 - (Page 12)
JANUARY 23, 2013
Obama Presses School Safety, Mental-Health Efforts
Some actions can be done under White House authority;
fate of others are uncertain in a budget-wary Congress
By Alyson Klein
President Barack Obama’s comprehensive plan to help the nation
avert gun violence—unveiled just
over a month after the shootings at
Sandy Hook Elementary School—
includes actions the administration
can take right away, such as crafting
model school safety plans, and others, such as providing new money
for broad school safety and mentalhealth programs, that will require
coaxing a tight-fisted Congress.
The package, which the president
announced last week at the White
House, lays out a series of new and
reinvigorated federal programs
aimed at bolstering districts’ emergency preparedness; helping schools
hire safety personnel, social workers, and psychologists; and training
teachers to better identify students
with mental illness.
The Jan. 16 proposals, informed
by the recommendations from an
anti-violence task force that was
led by Vice President Joe Biden
and included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, prominently
include calls for new, stricter federal gun laws.
Mr. Obama is seeking a ban on
military-style assault weapons; restrictions on the capacity of magazines; and a requirement for background checks for all gun sales,
including weapons purchased at
gun shows. Such proposals are
likely to be a tough sell among federal lawmakers.
But mental health and school
safety are also at the core of the
package, which asks Congress for
$150 million in new money to enable schools to enlist resource officers and mental-health professionals, $50 million for training
new social workers, $30 million for
grants to help districts revamp their
emergency-preparedness plans, and
$15 million in new funding to train
President Barack Obama
is pressing a series of
proposals and executive
actions intended to help
curb gun violence, improve
school safety, and bolster
particularly for young
people. Some would
approval, while others can
be carried out right away
under the president’s
teachers in “mental-health first aid.”
Advocates see potential in many
of the proposals but are hungry for
additional details, such as how the
money would be distributed across
the country, how big the grants
would be, what strings would be
attached, and whether the funding would be a one-time boost or
part of a sustainable effort.
“The way they describe emergency preparedness could mean
1,000 different things,” said Michael
Dorn, the executive director of Safe
Havens International, a nonprofit
school safety organization based in
Juliette, Ga. “It’s very difficult to
evaluate [the possible effectiveness]
of the programs at this stage.”
are likely to have more impact
than “somebody who comes in on
Wednesday and a few kids disappear into their office.”
Many of the mental-health initiatives put forward by President
Obama in his plan, including the
teacher-training initiative, would
be housed at the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.
executive muscle. The president
has asked the U.S. Department of
Justice to help schools hire additional resource officers—police officers who can respond to threats
immediately within a school—by
giving priority to applicants who
plan to use the Justice Department’s community-policing grants
for that purpose.
And, under his orders, the U.S.
Department of Education, working with the departments of
Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security,
will also develop, by May of this
year, model emergency-response
plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher
As part of that effort, the agencies will outline best practices for
training teachers and students on
the plans, something the federal
government has identified as a
gap when it comes to school safety
While the students and teachers at Sandy Hook had practiced
safety procedures in the months
before the lone gunman’s attack,
that is not the norm, according to
a 2010 survey cited by the White
House. The survey found that
while 84 percent of schools have
a written plan in place to be used
in the event of a shooting, only
52 percent of schools had drilled
their students on the plan in the
Mr. Dorn of Safe Havens International views the concept of
model plans with some caution.
“If you take these things and
just print them and use them”
without talking to local law enforcement or thinking about the
local context, they won’t be as effective, he said.
And almost no policy will eliminate the possibility of another
“I just don’t see that anything is
going to be a sure-fire bet to prevention,” Mr. Dorn said. “There is
no magic solution to make these
attacks go away.”
Mr. Obama’s plan to steer more
federal attention—and resources—
to mental health won praise from
school district officials. They said
mental-health services have often
been first on the chopping block
as districts have struggled to cut
their budgets in a time of recession
and sluggish growth.
But the effectiveness of the programs would depend largely on
how they were structured and on
how schools used the money, said
Kathy Cowan, a spokeswoman for
the National Association of School
Psychologists, in Bethesda, Md.
“It would be unfortunate if what
schools did was one-shot training
that may or may not be sustainable over time,” she said.
And she said that while helping
teachers do a better job of spotting
students with mental-health issues is “a very important prevention strategy,” it’s just one piece of
“There are signs that a young
person is struggling, but they could
just be having a bad day; it could
have nothing to do with mental
illness per se. It’s not up to the
teacher to determine that,” she
said, “it’s up to them to put the student in touch with a counselor or
U.S. schools have been the scene of
a series of deadly shootings by students over the years. At Sandy Hook
Elementary, in Newtown, Conn.,
however, a 20-year-old intruder was
responsible for the Dec. 14 attack.
It’s hard to estimate how much
would be covered by the proposed
funding for the president’s programs, ranging from $15 million
to $150 million—small sums by
federal budget standards.
As of last week, it was also unclear whether the money would be
distributed by formula or through
competitive awards, and how large
the grants would be.
While the White House estimates
that the resources could put 1,000
new mental-health and school
safety professionals in schools, Secretary Duncan acknowledged in a
call with reporters last week that
the funding—if approved by Congress—was unlikely to be enough
to put a social worker in place in
every school that needs one.
“There’s much greater interest
in this than we’ll have resources
available,” he said. That is typical,
he added, of initiatives aimed at
combating major societal problems.
For their part, district officials
said they would welcome the new
resources, even if the aid was relatively limited.
“I think it will help even if it
means just one extra school resource officer and one extra school
social worker,” said Audrey Coaston-Shelton, the lead school psychologist for the 34,000-student
Cincinnati school district.
But she said that mental-health
staff members who can be in the
school building on a regular basis
and form a bond with students
- .S. Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan and Secretary of Health and
Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
will launch a “national dialogue on
- $150 million for a new Comprehensive
School Safety Program, which would help
districts hire additional school resource officers,
school psychologists, counselors, and social
workers. The money could also be used to
purchase school safety equipment, develop
and update public-safety plans, and train
The proposals for Congress also put significant emphasis
on mental health. Among the components:
- he U.S. Department of Justice’s
COPS community-policing program
will give priority to applicants who
want to use the money for school
- model school emergency-response
plan will be developed by the
departments of Education, Health and
Human Services, and Justice.
- he U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention will research the root
causes of violence.
Capitol Hill Reception
It’s unclear how the new mental-health programs—and other
proposals that require new spending—will go over with Congress.
House Republicans particularly
have been reluctant to add to the
government’s bottom line and are
already headed for a showdown
with the White House over automatic spending cuts to a range of
domestic and military programs,
set to kick in later this year.
For now, Republicans aren’t tipping their hand on the educationrelated proposals.
“The president and vice president
have proposed a broad set of recommendations, which I plan to review
carefully,” U.S. Rep. John Kline, RMinn., the chairman of the House
Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. And he
said his committee would convene a
hearing on school safety.
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa,
who oversees the Senate panels that
deal with K-12 policy and funding,
was more enthusiastic, particularly
about the focus on mental health.
“I’m encouraged that this proposal recognizes that a comprehensive approach is needed—one
that focuses on ensuring that our
students get the services they need
and addresses mental-health services in our country with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention,” he said in a statement.
Already Under Way
Some portions of the newly announced plan have already been
pushed through using Mr. Obama’s
- $30 million in one-time grants to states to help
districts create and implement emergencymanagement plans.
- $50 million to help train additional schools on
“positive behavorial interventions and supports,”
or PBIS, an alternative disciplinary strategy, to
help improve school climate and discipline.
- $10 million in new money for the CDC to study
any relationship between violent video games
and media and actual violence.
- $15 million for “mental-health first aid” for teachers and other
adults who work with children, to help identify individuals
with mental-health problems early and get them assistance.
- $40 million to help school districts work with law
enforcement, mental-health agencies, and other local
organizations to make sure students with mental-health
problems get services.
- $25 million to finance new, state-based strategies to identify
individuals ages 16 to 25 with mental-health and substanceabuse problems and get them care.
- $25 million to help schools offer mental-health services
aimed at combating trauma, anxiety, and bolstering conflict
- $50 million in new money to train social workers, counselors,
psychologists, and other mental-health professionals.
SOURCE: White House
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 23, 2013
Education Week - January 23, 2013
Nation, Districts Step Up Safety
Colleges Overproducing Elementary-Level Teachers
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Calif. Districts Link To Push Shared Goals
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Civil Rights Groups: Discipline Excessive In Miss. Schools
Children Still Prefer Print Books to E-Books
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Obama Presses School Safety, Mental-Health Efforts
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MARTIN CARNOY & RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: International Tests Reveal Surprises at Home and Abroad
DAVID T. CONLEY: What’s in a Name
ALAN C. JONES: Schools for Other People’s Children
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Education Week - January 23, 2013