To the Editor:
In his recent Commentary “Armed Teachers and Guards Won’t Make Schools Safer” (Jan. 30, 2013), Charles J. Russo deftly outlines why arming teachers is an unacceptable approach to improving school safety. He rightly calls instead for comprehensive school safety planning that includes strengthening assistance to students in psychological need.
I am concerned, though, by the lack of reference to school-employed mental-health professionals as critical to the school safety equation. Effective school safety and crisis efforts encompass prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery related to crises ranging from the death of a teacher to a suicidal student to a major disaster.
Close collaboration with social services and community mental-health agencies is essential to the process, but the day-to-day work of school safety is the responsibility of school staff.
School-based mental-health professionals are integral, often leading members of school safety and crisis teams. They have the knowledge and skills to train school staff members on how to create safe and respectful school climates, manage behavior, and identify signs of conflict and distress. They conduct suicide and threat assessments to determine the level of risk a student poses to himself or others. And they provide ongoing mental-health supports to teachers and students in the aftermath of a crisis.
There is no substitute for being present every day and the interpersonal relationship with and knowledge about students, their families, and the school culture. Appropriate staffing and training are also important.
Unfortunately, funding for crisis prevention and school-based mental-health services has been cut dramatically in recent years. Public-health models that address societal risks emphasize prevention. We can and should be focusing on these prevention efforts, with school-based mental-health professionals at the forefront.
Director, Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention
Associate Professor, Department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology
University at Buffalo, State University of New York
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2013 edition of Education Week as In-School Mental-Health Professionals Critical