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    March 29, 2023

    It’s Budget Time—Prioritize Safety and Mental Health for 2023-24

    Budgeting is never fun, but these are some of the most important decisions you’ll make as a school administrator. You’re getting in full swing to go through the complex process of creating a detailed plan that balances enrollment, educational needs, and operational needs against the available funds. When the budget finally gets approved by June 30, what will be the fate of funding for school safety and student mental health?  

    Priorities and the Budget Crunch

    Assigning dollar amounts to everything your district needs is a complex process.  The goal is to create a budget that reflects the district’s goals for its students, which begs the question, what are the priorities?

    Among other concerns affecting the budget, school safety and student mental health have gained attention as our communities are rocked by the horrific and all too frequent occurrences of school shootings and student suicides. Yes, there will undoubtedly be line items for school safety and student mental health, but how high will they be on the list? 

    This year is particularly tough for those grappling with school budgets that are squeezed by a massive personnel shortage, the educational gap resulting from COVID-19 restrictions, and the rising cost of many traditional line items, such as operations and transportation. School districts prioritizing student safety and wellness must be creative to find cost-effective answers.  

    Federal Funds Help, But Tough Decisions Remain  

    School safety and student mental health have both taken a nosedive over the past decades, negatively affecting children’s ability to learn, their educational achievement, and what their future will look like years from now. 

    Fortunately, access to mental health resources has gained support from the federal government’s nearly one-billion dollars in grants as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). Grants for school safety have gotten a boost from the $190 million in grants awarded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in October 2022. 

    Even with these additional federal funds, plus funds they may receive from the state, LEAs (Local Educational Agencies), and community funding, there are always battles in the school boardroom about which items make the cut.

    When these sometimes heated discussions occur, we can point to the facts to show the importance of focusing on school safety and the wellness of our students.

    Let’s look at these two issues separately.

    Spotlight on Safety

    A learning environment should always feel safe and connected for all staff, faculty, and students. Unfortunately, shootings are just one of many traumatic events children may face at school. They may also be threatened or injured by a weapon, be bullied or physically assaulted, or experience another tragic event. 

    Many of us are familiar with these and other alarming statistics:

    • K-12 schools saw a 66% jump in safety incidents during the first three months of the 2020-21 school year compared to the same time in the previous school year.
    • There were 51 school shootings in 2022 that resulted in injuries or deaths, up from 35 the previous year. In all, 43,450 children experienced school shootings last year. 
    • Nearly half of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 (46%) report ever experiencing at least one of six cyberbullying behaviors asked about in a Pew Research Center survey conducted April 14-May 4, 2022.

    • Research indicates that exposure to a school shooting leads to decreased student enrollment, lower average test scores, increased student absenteeism, and low graduation rates.

    The good news is that today, nearly 100% of schools serving 12- to 18-year-olds use at least one safety or security measure, including locked doors, security cameras, hallway supervision, controlled building access, metal detectors, and locker checks. 

    But are those measures enough? 

    Investing in a Technology-Based Solution to School Safety

    There’s no time to waste when an emergency hits. Panic alerts, locked doors, and the like are far from comprehensive solutions. It may take time to understand the emergency and notify the correct responders. The school and responders may not have a defined way to communicate. There may be uncertainty about the emergency plan. There are many other examples of such shortcomings. 

    For more effective solutions, schools can invest in comprehensive technology-based solutions designed to keep students, teachers, and staff safe (and which may be available using federal funds). One example is the 911-Direct Silent Panic Alert System from STOPit Solutions. This all-in-one mobile-centric solution for administrators and educators is easy to use, notifies internal responders and 911 (if necessary) in real-time,  screen emergencies and non-emergencies, and provides a practical and powerful emergency management solution.

    Spotlight on Mental Health

    2022 was an especially trying year to be a child or teen, and we still face the negative ramifications of COVID-19 on student mental health, the educational experience, troubles at home, and the lack of social interaction with their peers. 

    Districts are struggling to help students access mental health supports, including mental health and social-emotional screening, in-school counselors, professional development to identify at-risk children, appropriate interventions, and other strategies to alleviate student mental, social, and behavioral problems. However, children who are struggling face roadblocks to academic achievement and later success in life.

    Here are just a few of the alarming facts contributing to and demonstrating the extent of the student mental health crisis:

    • In 2022, suicide was the second leading cause of death among 10-14-year olds and the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15-24 (National Institute of Mental Health). 
    • More than half (55%) of students reported they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, with 11% experiencing physical abuse (Source: CDC).
    • More than a quarter (29%) of students reported a parent or other adult in their home lost a job (CDC).
    • From January 1, 2020, to May 1, 2022, nearly 8 million children aged 18 and under lost a parent or primary caregiver to a pandemic-related cause. 

    Finding Innovative Solutions to School Safety and Student Mental Health Support

    As schools and districts look to provide more support for students and educators to combat the surging violence and mental health crisis, many are investing in new technology solutions, which may be available through grants. 

    Three core solutions to consider for your budget are STOPit Solutions' ARS (Anonymous Reporting System),  HELPme Program and Silent Panic Alert System. Each leverages mobile technologies to support the well-being of students, families, and staff.

    STOPit’s ARS: STOPit Anonymous Reporting System (ARS) delivers a comprehensive, all-in-one mobile-centered app and web-based incident management system. STOPit’s ARS provides multiple ways (mobile app, website, phone hotline) to submit incidents anonymously, 24/7/365. STOPit’s ARS empowers students, teachers, staff, or parents to intervene and get help for individuals who may want to hurt themselves or others—all through the convenience of a mobile app. STOPit’s Incident Response Center is staffed by certified specialists who gather, manage, monitor, and notify assigned response teams and 911 (as needed) for rapid response, along with documentation of all incidents and actions.   

    STOPit’s HELPme Program: A Proactive Approach to the Student Mental Health Crisis: Now more than ever, students, staff, and families need a comprehensive program that includes a communication channel to connect with those that can help (i.e: Family Engagement Coordinators, School Counselors, Social Workers, and School Nurses).

    The HELPme program is designed to meet the unseen needs of the school community by providing access and linkages to resources for basic needs, mental health, and family resilience, immediate crisis support 24/7 and a communication channel to ask for help from their school while ensuring the privacy and dignity all people deserve.

    HELPme normalizes asking for help and enables users to ask for and receive the help they need in a way that’s most comfortable for them. 

    STOPit’s 911-Direct Silent Panic Alert System: School Districts across the country are implementing Panic Alert Systems and running into challenges with all employees using it correctly to maximize the impact on school safety. Some of the challenges include: Accidental reporting of emergencies, Selecting incorrect protocols, Inability to alter protocols in real-time as events escalate, and Infrequent use. STOPit’s 911-Direct Silent Panic Alert System addresses those challenges and provides Powerful & Practical Emergency Management because no two events are the same.

    Additional Services also available through STOPit:

    • Teletherapy, Mental Wellness Services & Professional Development
    • Full-time and part-time therapists (off load of some your staff’s overwhelming caseload)
    • Mental Wellness Professional Development for Staff
    • Behavioral Threat/Suicide Risk Assessment Case Management & Training
    • Anti-Bullying & Restorative Justice Rallies & Assemblies

    Budget for a Safer, More Nurturing School Environment 

    As you work on your 2023-2024 budget, consider how your district prioritizes school safety and student mental health—and invest accordingly. When thinking about how you can best allocate resources to provide a safe learning environment and support students, staff, and families, STOPit Solutions may be a valuable piece of the puzzle. 

    Learn more about STOPit Solutions today.  


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