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Texas: New law to address mental health services in schools; teacher training called for

Aug 18, 2019, Abilene (TX) Reporter News: Wylie, Abilene districts addressing major overhaul to school safety in Senate Bill 11 https://www.reporternews.com/story/news/education/2019/08/18/wylie-abilene-districts-addressing-major-overhaul-to-school-safety-in-senate-bill-11/1998567001/ At its core, Senate Bill 11 is a response to the school shooting at Santa Fe High School in May 2018. Signed by Gov. Greg Abbott two months ago after the governor had convened several round table discussions to address the deadly shooting that killed 10 (eight students) and injured 13 others, SB 11 addresses school security, training, curriculum and accountability. Mental health is also a major aspect of the law, establishing the Texas Mental Health Consortium to address mental health challenges and enhance care possibilities. … Addressing trauma One of the biggest changes SB 11 makes involves preparing teachers, counselors and other educators to notice signs of trauma or changes in behavior among students. It's a difficult job, Lambert said, but these employees must be on the front lines if things are going to change. "We have to give them training and the time to detect high risk individuals or when someone is exhibiting personality traits that would indicate something's not right," Lambert said. There are all kinds of trauma affecting children, said Wylie Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Craig Bessent. And it affects a child's ability to learn. Recognizing what's happening and being among the first to assist can go a long way to stopping a major issue from developing from small struggles…. Chief among them is building relationships between teachers and students, students and students, and teachers and teachers. … The second way is by helping students develop social skills. Sharing, listening and being respectful even if disagreeing are strong pushes, Bessent said. But not every student at Wylie has been with the district long enough to have learned what the district expects of its students. So, he said, the district has to be prepared at every level to instruct students on these skills…. Districts aren't perfect. Students can fall through the cracks. That's why there's a big push through SB 11 for increased mental health professionals. Wylie and Abilene ISDs both will employ more school psychologists this coming year. Wylie, for instance, will have one at Wylie High, one each at the two junior high schools and one total at the district's elementary schools. A specialize psychologist will also be available in critical cases, Bessent said. Abilene ISD, meanwhile, this summer looked for four to six social workers to fill an immediate need. Their approach, at least right away, is to focus on connecting students in need with resources that are available. … "Abilene currently has no child psychiatrist," Associate Superintendent Dan Dukes said at a recent school board meeting. "It is a barrier. Unfortunately, it's beyond our control." Superintendent David Young acknowledged that social workers were only a step in the right direction, not the solution to addressing mental health struggles. … Everybody involved in securing students has a worst nightmare. So they train teachers how to be safe. They train students what to look for. And they train themselves to be at the cutting edge. ….