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White House Gun Control Proposals Include School Safety and Mental Health Initiatives

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January 21, 2013

By Amy Dickerson

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, President Obama has announced numerous executive actions and legislative proposals to address gun control, school safety, and mental health issues nationwide. The White House has issued presidential memoranda, calls for legislative proposals, and announced other executive actions that encompass four overarching goals: 1) closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands; 2) banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and taking other steps to reduce gun violence; 3) making schools safer; and 4) increasing mental health services. The actions and proposals that directly involve schools include the following:

Comprehensive School Safety Program
  • The White House administration proposes a new Comprehensive School Safety program to give school districts and law enforcement agencies $150 million to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors.
  • School districts would also be able to use Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase or update school safety equipment (e.g. security cameras and secure locking systems), develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments, and train “crisis intervention teams” of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community to respond to and assist students in crisis.
Support for School Resource Officers
  • In addition to the proposed Comprehensive School Safety program, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments to hire school resource officers by providing a preference for grant applications that support such officers.
  • The Department of Justice will also develop a model for using school resource officers, including best practices on age-appropriate methods for working with students.
Model Emergency Management Plans and Security Assessments
  • By May 2013, the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security will release a set of model, high quality emergency management plans for schools, houses of worship, and higher education institutions. The Departments will also release best practices for developing these plans and training students and staff to follow them.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Justice, will also assist interested schools, houses of worship, and higher education institutions in completing their own security assessments.
  • President Obama is calling on Congress to provide $30 million of one-time grants to states to help their school districts develop and implement emergency management plans, and to require states and school districts that receive school safety funding from the Department of Education to have comprehensive, up-to-date emergency plans in place for all of their schools.
Training for Active Shooter Situations
  • The White House is calling on Congress to provide an additional $14 million to help train 14,000 more police officers and other public and private personnel, including school officials and first responders, to respond to active shooter situations. The White House will also immediately expand access to such federal training and federal agencies will ensure that protocols for responding to active shooter situations are consistent.
Improving School Climate
  • The White House proposes to expand current school climate improvement efforts with a new $50 million initiative to help 8000 more schools train teachers and other school staff to implement evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. These strategies aim to reduce bullying, drug abuse, violence, and other problem behaviors, and involve certain steps for the whole school, with more intensive steps for groups of students exhibiting at-risk behavior, and individual services for students who continue to exhibit troubling behavior.
  • The White House will also develop a school climate survey, providing reliable data to help schools implement policies to improve school climate.
Sharing School Discipline Best Practices
  • The Department of Education will collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline policies to help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies.
Project AWARE
  • The White House is calling for a new initiative called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) to reach 750,000 young people by providing training to teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services. Project AWARE would include:
  • $15 million for training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults; and
  • $40 million to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues or other behavioral issues are referred to the services they need.
Other Mental Health Initiatives
  • The White House is also proposing $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in the form of stipends and tuition reimbursement.
  • President Obama is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders.
Disclosure of Threats of Violence
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will issue a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits the reporting of direct and credible threats of violence to the authorities.

The Department of Education is reportedly preparing webinars regarding a number of the above-mentioned proposals and will reach out to school districts and state associations once those webinars are available. 

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