Ward working on school safety bill

by Becky GINOS bginos@davisclipper.com BOUNTIFUL—With school back in session safety is on everyone’s mind. After the tragic events at a high school in Parkland, Fla. last February the Utah Safe Schools Commission was formed by the Utah Legislature to study ways to address the issue. The group, made up of stakeholders from law enforcement to mental health professionals, announced a three-tiered approach to keeping children safe at school. Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, a member of the commission is taking the lead to develop a bill focusing on mental health he intends to run in the upcoming 2019 legislative session. “It calls for a threat assessment team in each school,” said Ward. “Whether they’re physically at the school or can be accessed quickly. They’ll be in teams of three, an administrator, law enforcement officer and a mental health professional.” Ward said these are services all schools want but it’s a matter of if they can afford it. “The challenge of the bill is to give access to these services without putting an extra burden on those who already have something in place,” he said. “The team would do a triage type assessment of the threat to determine if it’s not a big deal or if it’s a really big deal and they need to act quickly such as a critical mental illness situation like a potential suicide that they could step in and help.” The team members are not necessarily on site, he said, but can use their expertise to act when needed. “The law enforcement member knows what the threats are and has experience in dealing with those,” said Ward. “The mental health professional understands those issues and knows what can be done. They’re plugged into resources.” Ward anticipates the team will be different in an elementary school setting as opposed to a high school. “There will probably not be an officer on site at the elementaries but you could have an angry parent, etc.” The team would be available to address any concerns that come up, he said. He intends for the bill to spell out what’s needed then he’ll go to school superintendents to find out how much it will actually cost to implement. “We have to honestly figure out what it will take to get those services to all schools, including rural areas.” Davis School District is already utilizing mental health professionals to support local teams but they’re stretched thin with 90 schools to cover. Ward said he’s focusing on mental wellness because it’s one of the few ideas that has scientific evidence that it works. “Virginia put something like this into place but it was not done uniformly so two or three medical people were able to study it. In the schools that had it they saw good improvement in safety and a decrease in bullying, etc. That’s why it’s an important idea.” He’ll be meeting with different groups in the coming months leading up to the legislative session to gain support. “The education interim committee said OK to the idea but they want a good agreement from the school superintendents, state school board and UEA before they’ll go forward,” said Ward. “I also met with the governor’s excellence in education commission. If that many people are paying attention maybe the legislature will look at it.”


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