Concerns with School Safety Grant Requirements

Reprinted from Wisconsin Health News email sent on August 21, 2018

Advocates are concerned about requirements for a grant program that aims to improve school safety and student mental health, according to a Monday letter.

Earlier this year, lawmakers created a Department of Justice Office of School Safety, charged with awarding $100 million to school districts. After the first round of grants, DOJ had about $45 million left that it plans to award to schools to boost mental health, create school safety intervention teams and make additional security upgrades.

Grassroots Empower Project, Kids Forward, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, NAMI Wisconsin, Wisconsin Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and Wisconsin Ties raised concerns about the application process in a Monday letter, including a requirement that schools applying for money send 10 percent of their full-time teachers and counselors to a 12-hour training on adolescent mental health.

The approved training under the grant process, according to the letter, is for school resource officers. Since teachers aren’t the target audience, the groups are worried it could reinforce "unfounded linkages between mental health challenges and crime" and cause "teachers to view themselves as ‘disciplinary staff’ in their response.”

They recommended that teachers instead receive training in Youth Mental Health First Aid, which doesn't take a disciplinary approach. They also said that counselors should be exempt since they already have similar training and are “a scare resource in our schools.”

The letter also raised concerns about a proposed DOJ hotline that schools receiving funding would have to use to report data about “specific, plausible and imminent threats.” Advocates warned that could promote a “culture of suspicion,” adding to stigma and discouraging those needing help from seeking it.

DOJ did not return an email requesting comment.