Burke could be valuable resource for East Texas districts’ school safety plans

By Donna McCollum, Journalist, see the original KTRE story here.

Lufkin, TX (KTRE)

Students’ mental and behavioral health needs are listed as a top priority in Gov. Greg Abbott’s school and firearm safety action plan.

East Texas News learned that mental health professionals could be an excellent resource for both services and guidance to school districts.

Dr. James Smith, Burke’s chief clinical officer, praised Abbott’s call for more behavioral threat assessments within schools. But he prefaces that with…”A person with mental health issues is no more likely to commit an act of violence as an individual without mental health issues,” Smith said.

Smith said people trained to do threat assessments are less likely to jump to ill-informed conclusions.

“And that’s our biggest concern that then we’re going to look at possibly stigmatizing children in the system just because they are a little different,” Smith said.

“The plan is extensive,” said Paul Robbins, a Texas School Safety Center board member. Robbins said the free university-level research center can help districts avoid mistakes, “Nothing is off the cuff,” Robbins said. Nothing is the best guess.”

The latest recommendation is the critical need for parents, educators, school administrators, and the community to work together in the recovery process. “Areas like the Burke center and local law enforcement and local school districts are going to have to work more closely together in the future,” Robbins said.

It’s happening.  A new initiative is the system of care program involving service providers and school districts.

“[We] try to focus on working in the school system with the children in our area that have mental health issues,” Smith said. “These are usually for kids that are at high risk, high-need kids.”

The governor has called for “mental health first aid,” a program Burke’s Paul Jackson has taught for years.

East Texas schools may be closer to reaching the goals set by the school and firearm safety action plan than parents know. “Our school districts are making very proactive measures,” Robbins said. “They’re talking to the subject matter experts. They’re getting the best materials and they’re attempting to implement those at a local level.”

Burke goes into more than 55 school districts to serve its younger clients.  Experts say access to state and federal funding could lead to a closer working relationship that better serves the safety of the entire school population.

For more information on Mental Health First Aid visit our website.