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School Safety Bill Could Increase Behavioral Health Services in Schools

Beth Hess - Thursday, July 19, 2018

On the last day of the 2018 Maryland legislative session, in response to the school violence that has been occurring across the country, “The Safe to Learn Act of 2018” passed. The bill requires a number of measures that are aimed at improving school safety:

  • It establishes a “School Safety Subcabinet and Advisory Board,” which, among other duties, must develop a policy for the establishment of assessment teams in each local school system to identify and intervene with students who might pose a risk to school safety.
  • It requires the establishment of the position of “school safety coordinator” in each local school system, as well as the conducting of safety evaluations and the development of emergency plans.
  • It expands the use of School Resource Officers.
  • It requires the appointment of a “mental health services coordinator” in each local school system (by September 1, 2018), with various responsibilities:
    • to ensure that a student who is referred for mental health services obtains the necessary services
    • to develop plans for delivering behavioral health and wraparound services (see below) to students who exhibit “behaviors of concern,” defined as:
      • expressions of hopelessness
      • known drug use
      • suicidal gestures or statements
      • known gang activity

“Wraparound services” refers to services provided to students and their families, as needed, including:

  • mentoring
  • tutoring
  • child care services
  • housing referrals
  • transportation
  • crisis intervention
  • substance use prevention and treatment
  • legal aid
  • academic counseling
  • career counseling

It is unfortunate that the needs of students with behavioral health challenges are being addressed within the context of school safety, for we know that the vast majority of youth with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than other youth. Nonetheless, we applaud the initiative’s focus on ensuring the delivery of behavioral health services to students in need of them.

While the Safe to Learn Act does not provide any funding for the delivery of on-site mental health and/or substance use treatment services, the legislation contains an important directive – it requires that the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Public Schools (also known as the Kirwan Commission) make recommendations regarding the need for additional mental health and wraparound services in schools, and whether and how funding should be provided to local school systems to support and expand access to those services.

This is important because it is anticipated that the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations to improve the state of education in Maryland will receive extensive funding. The Kirwan Commission has been holding hearings about the provision of school-based behavioral health services and appears receptive to recommendations about the expansion of such programs. The Commission’s final report will be submitted to the legislature at the end of 2018.

MCF will provide updates as the final report of the Commission is released and legislation is introduced during the 2019 Maryland legislative session. Subscribe to our mailing list to stay informed.


 

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