Source: sunsentinel.com | Author: Andrew Boryga | Date: August 13, 2019
School safety task force: Broward needs more money for mental health help
A task force of elected officials, police, educators and students are calling for increased mental health coordination and funding for Broward County students.
The school and public safety task force’s updated report was issued Tuesday, the day before school begins in Broward, as well as 18 months after the Parkland shooting that first prompted the task force to form.
New recommendations include a push for the Florida Legislature to implement universal background checks for all firearm sales. They also called for the creation of a central coordinator to streamline mental health resources and plan for mass trauma incidents, though they did not specify who would create that position or what agency or office would oversee the coordinator.
In 2018, the task force, convened by the Broward League of Cities in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, issued 102 recommendations including adding metal detectors to all Broward public schools and adding more mental health counselors.
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, co-chairman of the task force, provided brief updates Tuesday on the recommendations made in the 2018 report, as well as highlighting 17 new recommendations.
Mental health resources
Staffing of mental health experts in schools, such as school psychologists, counselors and social workers, remains “woefully unacceptable,” according to the report.
A “mental health incident commander” would keep individual organizations, such as local and county government, police, fire, schools, mental health providers, hospitals and others, from duplicating responses. That person would “be involved in pre-event planning, acute response and long-term deployment of resources” according to the report.
However, the report does not detail how that coordinator would be chosen.
According to the report, the commander also would be in charge of mental health services for students who survive traumatic events. For example, students who survived the Parkland shooting might be re-traumatized after other mass shootings across the country.
The report also advocated for a change in the criteria for compensation under the Victims of Crime Act. Currently, Parkland victims not physically harmed in the deadly shooting are classified as “Mental Health Minor Witnesses” rather than a “Mental Health Injured Minor.” The latter is eligible to receive $10,000 purchase mental health and other needed services, while the former is only eligible for half.
School resource officers
When students show up at Broward schools Wednesday for the start of the academic year, every school will have “some element of security,” School Board member Patti Good said.
The 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act mandated every public school have a school resource officer.
The task force’s analysis found the mandate puts financial burdens on municipalities already struggling with hiring shortages and on school districts strapped for cash.
The report stresses that without a “permanent and dedicated funding source” the school resource mandate will “continue to exist as a patchwork of programs” that are dependent on the individual resources of municipalities.
A central recommendation in the updated report was that the Legislature implement universal background checks for all firearm sales, including private sales.
A background check required on firearms purchased from licensed dealers in the state would alert a dealer to anyone with a red-flag on their record. The red-flag would indicate they have had their firearms confiscated in the past and that they are prohibited from purchasing guns.
However, for private sales there are no background checks and therefore someone who has had their weapons seized could evade detection by purchasing more firearms privately or at gun shows.
It’s a “glaring loophole,” Ryan said.
Since the red-flag law went into effect in Florida, more than 300 firearms were removed from people deemed a danger.
“I hope this nationwide discussion after Gilroy, Dayton and El Paso, drives a more meaningful discussion about universal background checks and the risks that we face as a society,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the task force was pleased with the response to some of the immediate concerns addressed in the initial 2018 report.
These include holding mandatory safety meetings before school starts to train staff on emergency code response, holding a mandatory lock down drill within the first two weeks of school, and implementing an app that allows students, parents and school staff to report threats or suspicious activity.
With respect to longer term issues such as changing gun laws, funding school resource officers, and funding increased mental health services for students he said, “I’m disappointed we can’t get there.”
According to Ryan and other task force members, implementing all the necessary changes will take an enormous amount of funding, as well as legislation action that is out of the hands of the County.
“No single municipality can solve this problem,” Ryan said. “We need Tallahassee’s help.”
Click here to read the full task force report.