Schools need more than money to fix their problems…

Tough economic times have placed a huge strain on school budgets. Public school districts struggle to find and retain quality teachers while trying to effectively use limited financial resources.

When we factor in the costs of safety and security, our money must now be stretched even further. Keeping our students safe has always been a top priority, but the types of threats our schools face are changing. The issues we deal with today were unthinkable in generations past.

Schools now install high definition video surveillance, metal detectors, x-ray machines and high-tech visitor identification systems. Buildings are renovated with secure entry points to thwart would be attackers. Many locations have added police and security officers or other designated armed staff to increase the safety of our children.

These are big money items, but school safety and security spending extends far beyond just installing hardware and adding staff to deal with these issues. Schools must also pay to clean or repair damage from graffiti, vandalism or other destructive acts caused by kids. Items stolen from schools need to be replaced.

Violence in our schools also costs money. Active shooter incidents result in millions, if not billions, of dollars annually in litigation, liability and recovery costs. 

Shootings aside, it’s not uncommon for teachers to get hurt at school. It’s not rare for teachers to be injured by out of control students in the classroom. This often results in lost time (sick days), workers compensation claims and sometimes law suits.

| Note: Expensive insurance policies are now being sold to schools to protect them financially from active shooters and other terrorist type attacks. |

The stress and mental anguish teachers must endure daily sometimes cause them to resign, leaving understaffed classrooms which can create more safety hazards for staff and other students, especially in schools with populations of emotionally disturbed children. Even smaller scale “common” incidents such as bullying, harassment and fighting can cost schools tremendous amounts of money.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2015–16 school year, 79 percent of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place, amounting to 1.4 million crimes.

Keep in mind, these numbers represent only what was reported. It’s pretty far fetched to believe the other 21 percent of schools in that survey had ZERO crimes. Many crimes probably weren’t reported. And I doubt every school in America was surveyed, which means the actual number would really be MUCH higher.

School staff members, teachers and administrators spend countless hours investigating, disciplining and dealing with the individuals involved in these incidents.  This takes valuable time and resources away from the educational process. 

As such, other students who actually want to learn are suffering.

Law enforcement and other juvenile authorities also require extensive funding to adjudicate, supervise and house juvenile offenders. Juvenile crimes (which often occur at school) are a tremendous drain on public resources and they only seem to be increasing.

In addition, juvenile offenders often grow up to be adult offenders. Grown up courts, jails and prisons require lots of funding also. Billions of dollars are spent each year which could be better used to enhance the educational experience for our youth, or other public projects which could benefit everyone.

Regardless of where you live, your tax dollars fund all of these expenditures.

The need for crime related funding is understandable, but it’s unacceptable. It’s a necessary evil, but how did we get to where we are? Everyone should be upset with where we are as a society right now. We’re having discussions about arming teachers, fortifying schools and increasing police presence rather than discussing what I believe is the true underlying problem – mental illness.

Crime prevention tactics are important and police officers do have a role in school safety, but we (the entire educational community) should be working to identify behavioral problems in children which are occurring as a result of mental illness.

To a point, kids will be kids, but there are countless juvenile behaviors which can be directly attributed to untreated mental illness. This is often overlooked in schools. Rather, fingers get pointed at socioeconomic factors, demographics and other things implying a child is just “bad”. 

If you look at the larger picture, many of the underlying problems in society as a whole are a direct result of mental illness. Non-compliance, defiance, issues with authority, blatant disrespect and lack of proper social skills in general can often be attributed to undiagnosed or improperly treated mental health problems.

When you give a child a disciplinary action, there can be no corrective action when the child lacks the rationality to know they’ve done something wrong. Constantly disciplining, suspending or arresting chronically offensive kids only serve to mask the problems (research the “pipeline to prison” theory). Our schools deal with these behavioral problems every day, yet nothing is being done to fix them. 

Even with repeated corrective action, problems in the brains of our mentally ill youth will never be changed without professional help. These “problem” children will serve their punishment only to return later with the same problems which caused them to act out in the first place. With the system as it is now, nothing in their behavior will change.

And more often than not, it’s the same kids who act habitually cause problems. They will continue do the same things over and over until the cycle is broken. This should be a clue. It doesn’t take a genius with a bunch of letters after their name to see this.

NOTE: Children do need to be held accountable for their actions, but they (and ALL of society for that matter) also need more mental health intervention to reduce the occurrence of these problems in the future, especially with habitual violators. 

It’s unrealistic to think we will ever completely eliminate crime and behavioral problems, but there are things we can do to reduce these acts. One of these things is identifying and properly treating those with mental illness. Unfortunately, the system we have now is highly flawed.

Public schools simply do not have the proper resources to deal with students who are overtly defiant, disruptive, violent and destructive. This means children with serious problems are forced to remain in the general population of public schools because they have nowhere else to go. 

This has an effect on every other student in the building. It also has an effect on the morale of teachers who have to deal with these untreated behaviors day after day. The problem we face is that improving mental health is not very high on the agenda of public officials, but it should be.

In short, teachers can’t teach because they are constantly having to deal with behavioral issues and students can’t learn because of the constant disruptions throughout the day.

Are children less behaved today than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago or more? Or is it mental health problems have become worse in those same time frames. I opt for the latter.

Kids are not the problem – adults are.

Children are products of their environments. They live in the world we’ve created for them. Everyone in the community must work together to create an environment which allows our youth to grow up into productive, successful citizens. This means redirecting school funding to where it needs to be – allocating mental health resources to help kids in need.

Our kids need better mental health care and our schools need better resources to deal with students who have issues. We need more properly trained staff members who can handle these students and we need better facilities to care for these students.

Contact your school administrators, board members, superintendent and government representatives to speak out. It’s time to change the way we’re handling our children with mental health issues.

Don’t just treat the symptoms. Fix the cause of the problem.

Written by Marty Augustine


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