Mental health should be part of school safety talks

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NEWARK – As school districts have conversations about safety in the wake of the Parkland school shooting last month, Heath City Schools Superintendent Trevor Thomas said another topic should be included: mental health.

Speaking to a group of educators, legislators, community leaders and private citizens at a United Way of Licking County forum on public education, Thomas talked about the need schools have to address the mental health of students.

Thomas said when students make threats, it often happens out of anger.

“Many times there are underlying mental health issues that are there,” he said.

After threats are made, Thomas said he meets with students in a hearing. He said he knows they are good students, but they have problems and they make bad decisions.

“We try to look at how can we support those issues,” he said. “A lot of times it’s connecting them to sustainable mental health support and then it connects their families to sustainable mental health support.”

Thomas said he knows his district needs more help when it comes to students’ mental health. The district only has one school counselor between its four buildings. Heath also has a school psychologist and one full time and one part time social worker.

Heath has more than 1,700 students. The social workers have seen more than 250 students, and that number keeps increasing, Thomas said.

“We refer many of our students who have mental illness needs to our social workers,” he said. “We refer many of our students who have disciplinary situations, that range all the way up to threats in school.”

Thomas said the district is looking to add more counselors for the next school year. He said more counselors are needed to help more than just students who are at-risk or have mental health problems.

Even the students who do have earn A’s and B’s sometimes need support.

“We need counselors to support those kids because they still go through everyday needs,” he said.

The district also needs more counselors to deal with tragedies that arise. Two Heath students have died this school year.

“We’re fortunate that we’re in Licking County where all of our districts work together and in both of those losses we had counselors come to us,” he said. “We have that type of network. That is unique I think in Licking County. It doesn’t involve any of us telling them to get to that school. They do it on their own.”

Friday’s event was part of a quarterly forum hosted by the United Way of Licking County Community Partners Council. The next forum will focus on domestic violence. It’s scheduled from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. May 16 at the Licking County Aging Program, located at 1058 E. Main St. in Newark.

mdevito@gannett.com

740-328-8513

Twitter: @MariaDeVito13

Found in The Newark Advocate March 16, 2018

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