School safety committee recommends more mental health professionals
A school safety committee formed following the death of Amy Joyner Francis at Howard High School last April is offering its recommendations.
“It’s sad that it takes something like that to try and have a conversation about some of these things to help make sure our schools are safe and that we’re providing supports to students to help them become mature adults," said Colonial School District's elementary school psychologist Emily Klein.
Klein and the committee say more school-based mental health professionals and conflict resolution programs need to be in place to help prevent similar instances.
Klein was on the school safety committee, and says she sometimes feels stretched thin as the only psychologist for 950 kids at both Pleasantville Elementary and Carrie Downie Elementary.
"It ends up being a lot more reactive," she said. "Which unfortunately, that’s what happens when you’re trying to do as much as you can with a small number of folks."
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.
Klein says her workload keeps her from spending more time on school-wide preventative programs that benefit all students.
Delaware is testing one such school-wide initiative. The state Department of Education’s John Sadowski - who works on school climate and discipline - says Compassionate Schools aims to address underlying mental health concens connected with classroom behavioral issues.
“It’s based on trauma-informed practices," Sadowski said. "The way it’s described is you’re not asking kids, hey what’s wrong with you. You’re asking them hey, what’s happened to them to cause them to behave so severely in some instances.”
The model has been in use at six middle schools across Delaware for two years - and could soon be added to more.
Other recommendations from the committee: increase the number of school resource officers and school constables and limit or ban the use of cellphones in schools to help prevent cyberbullying.
The committee also called for additional student, parent and teacher input about ways to improve learning environments and make schools safer.