On Monday, lawmakers on both the General Assembly’s School Safety Working Group and the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard testimony relating to the various mental health and security needs facing Kentucky students.
The meeting was the third of the newly established School Safety Working Group, which came together to find ways to improve the safety of Kentucky’s schools. The group consists of bipartisan members of the House and Senate, and is co-chaired by Rep. Bam Carney and Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville.
According to multiple presenters at Trigg County High School, including students, mental health professionals and educators, increasing access to mental health services in schools must be a key part of discussions and solutions moving forward. One in five youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to a representative from the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health.
Building a positive climate that is focused on a culture of belonging and establishing relationships is also critical, according to experts. On the prevention front, presenters noted that schools must create an environment where students feel empowered to report threats to safety, based on reports or observation of depression or other dangerous behavior.
Physical security also continued to be a part of the conversation, with Marshall County Superintendent Trent Lovett noting that Marshall County High School plans to install overhead metal detectors for the coming school year.
The recently enacted 2018 state budget provides a base of $20,000 for every Kentucky school district to beef up school security. The remainder is allocated locally on a per pupil basis at $13.36 for each student enrolled in the district, under a formula approved by the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
The funding could go toward hiring a new security officer, new security equipment, or other security needs that a school district may have.
“Better protecting our children requires a multi-faceted approach that considers both physical as well as psychological security,” said Rep. Bam Carney, who co-chairs the School Safety Working Group and chairs the House Education Committee. “While funding included in the new state budget is a start, we are going to continue working together to providing better safety for all of our students.”
The next meeting of the working group will be on Monday, August 13 in Frankfort.