Dec 29, 2019, Lakeland (FL) Ledger: The challenge of violent, suicidal student behavior https://www.theledger.com/news/20191229/challenge-of-violent-suicidal-student-behavior The behavioral and mental health statistics of Polk County students are alarming, showing increases in arrests for disruptive and violent incidents at schools, students committed to a mental health facility and, sadly, suicides. Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office statistics show that at least 13 students have committed suicide in the past four years. BARTOW — The stories are shocking and heartbreaking — students who are hurting so deeply that they violently lash out at teachers and administrators, threaten to kill school resource officers and beat classmates so badly that videos of the incidents rapidly spread across the internet and make appearances on the nightly news…. The behavioral and mental health statistics of Polk County students are alarming, showing increases in arrests for disruptive and violent incidents at schools, students committed to a mental health facility and, sadly, suicides. For the past year, Polk County Public Schools officials have redesigned the district’s school discipline and student behavior response plan, including addressing the social-emotional learning needs of students while also providing supports for teachers and school personnel…. “The catalyst for the plan was the collective voice of our school-based personnel — our teachers, paras, bus drivers, support staff, principals and assistant principals — in regard to their needs and concerns for school discipline and student behavior,” said Deputy Superintendent John Hill. By the numbers This school year, more than 150 calls have come in through early December, many from elementary schools: Arrests for assaults on teachers 2019-20*: 26 (16 by ESE students) 2018-19: 64 (40 by ESE students) Arrests for disrupting school function 2013-2019 Polk County: 106 Lakeland: 20 Lake Wales: 2 Haines City: 27 Winter Haven: 23 Students Baker Acted from school 2015-16: 183 2016-17: 133 2017-18: 128 2018-19: 258 2019-20 (by October): 46 ‒ Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office statistics show that at least 13 students have committed suicide in the past four years. ‒ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second-leading cause of death of children 10-19 years old in the U.S. is suicide. Out of the 14,103 10- to 19-year-olds who died in 2017, 3,008 committed suicide. The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017. *-Statistics through Dec. 9 Less than 1% District officials say that while less than 1% of their 105,000 students have profound behavioral problems, their goal is to reduce their highly disruptive behavior, reinforce positive behaviors, teach replacement behaviors, and provide supports for students. Kimberly Steinke, PCPS assistant superintendent for learning support, said the district started the school year with 113 cases already on record, the majority of whom were special education students with individualized education programs tailored to their learning or behavioral disability. Of those, 72 were in elementary school. “We started the school year with 27 students already enrolled in our new impact intensive behavioral unit,” Steinke told the board referring to special schools for behaviorally challenged elementary school students. “We had 19 students who were already receiving on-site support in their schools.” Based on that finding, Chief Academic Officer Michael Akes said the district is beginning to “look upstream” at pre-kindergarten students and helping them with their behavior…. Since the start of the school year, more than 150 additional calls have come into the district’s Student Behavior Response Team, headed by Brett Butler, the district director of discipline. Butler then determines if it is a schoolwide problem, a classroom issue or an individual student who needs help. The issue will be reviewed within 24 to 48 hours and one of five district teams responds to work with the school, teacher or student. A school-based meeting will then be held and a plan developed, implemented and monitored. The district’s behavior-response teams include a board-certified behavior analyst, behavior specialist, mental health facilitator, positive behavioral intervention and support facilitators, school psychologist, school social worker, academic behavior support teacher and registered behavior technician. The team also instituted a new computer tracking system. Students receiving help are assigned a case number. “We continue to track every action that is taken with them,” Steinke said. “If they have an IEP meeting and a behavior plan, we can pull up a student and know what the SBRT team has been doing to support that student.” Help for parents Several board members asked what is being done to help parents because many issues start at home….. “We have a couple of the hospitals here that are really starting to branch out into this, and we’re going to be partners at the table with them,” said Byrd, adding that Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center is one of the hospitals wanting to work with couples to help them be good parents. Butler said when the Schools Behavior Response Team goes to the school, the parents are invited to the planning meeting to find out what can be done for that student…. Teacher shortage… “A lot of our new hires that we get this time of year are non-education majors ... and even if they did have an education background, they still are struggling with what do we do with difficult behavior,” Akes said, adding that colleges of education are having difficulty teaching classroom and student management in dealing with extreme behavioral issues. … As part of the school discipline and student behavior response plan, the district provided behavioral training to more than 400 teachers and school and district staff members last summer. The district plans to expand professional development again this summer, including workshops and side-by-side coaching. Fortney said that in her more than 33 years as a science teacher she has seen behavior issues increase to unmanageable levels, even for veteran teachers…. At every School Board meeting, Fortney calls for a mental health professional to be placed in all 150 schools in the district. More than 1,420 people have signed a Bartow High School student’s petition to have at least two qualified mental health counselors on every school campus. But all that comes with a price tag. District finance officials say hiring five counselors, 103 mental health counselors/facilitators, 101 social workers and 89 school psychologists would cost the district nearly $21 million….
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