School violence is a statewide concern, but focus should be on health supports, not security crackdown
We applaud efforts to protect our children and educators. However, creating a school-based police force (“BPS safety suggestions include police,” Metro, Jan. 19) may have harmful consequences and negatively affect children and families already marginalized by disability, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
While the spotlight is currently on the Boston Public Schools, student safety is a statewide concern and demands that we implement strategies to prevent and address school violence. Expanding the resources required to create and maintain a police presence diverts scarce resources away from providing the upstream behavioral health supports most likely to keep all students safe in school.
Comprehensive school-based behavioral health systems promote safety, academic success, and attendance rates and help reduce special education referrals, school disciplinary actions, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and the prevalence and severity of mental illness.
Every student deserves to feel safe in school, and a concerted effort to rapidly implement comprehensive behavioral health services and support in every district would help create that safe space.
Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Barrage of sexualized media images breeds rise in misconduct among schoolchildren
The Globe reported last week that a Boston city councilor was using an increase in reported numbers of sexual misconduct and sexual assaults at the Boston Public Schools to justify advocating for tighter security in schools, including bringing back a police presence (“Number of sexual assaults in dispute,” Metro, Jan. 23).
Tightening security or having police in schools will do nothing because sexual harassment and sexually predatory behavior is everywhere, not just in schools, and is supported by the larger culture.
The general public has been conditioned to accept this as normal. The explosion of sexualized images of women and girls in media of all sorts regularly bombards girls and boys. These images were once seen only in porn magazines, and they were usually hidden behind store counters. Now they are everyday fare.
In addition, Internet pornography, a multibillion-dollar industry, is not just a click away but it also pops up while young children are playing innocent games on the computer. Children are exposed to Internet pornography at earlier and earlier ages. The images they see can normalize the exploitation and mistreatment of girls and women. Why are we surprised when children act out in schools?
Unless we start to challenge the normalization of this sexual objectification and exploitation — at home, in schools, and in our larger society — sexual misconduct and assault numbers will continue to increase.
Instead of placing police in schools, how about classes where boys and girls are made aware of and have a safe space to discuss the impacts of sexism, sexual objectification of women and girls, and the porn industry, and where they can explore alternatives and solutions that point them toward caring, mutually respectful relationships instead?
The Rev. Cheng Imm Tan
The writer is the founder of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.
Schools are a fertile ground to repair what pandemic has broken
A report by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans this month outlines the decades-long crisis in child mental health in Massachusetts and across the country. In the fall, the American Psychological Association and the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the emotional consequences of COVID-19 continue to adversely affect large numbers of people young and old. These are our students and many of the parents, teachers, and volunteers who make up our schools.
Behavioral health problems affect the attention, concentration, memory, motivation, and organizational skills required for academic success. Two years of emergency management have disrupted the relationships and common vision among the adults who steward our learning communities.
Schools are optimal environments to repair what the pandemic has broken. Predictable routines, emotional connections, and teamwork can help children cope with stress, foster positive relationships, and build resilience. Decades of social-emotional learning research underscore the positive impact that inclusive, culturally responsive, supportive environments have on psychosocial development and academic advancement. Likewise, the daily work of adult stakeholders who are committed to the intellectual and emotional development of children offers opportunities to rebuild the relationships and shared vision that are required for successful social systems.
While we are concerned about “learning loss,” we want to emphasize the need to restore all that has been lost in our learning communities. Re-creating safe, supportive school climates is the first step in helping students learn. This means not only investing in social-emotional learning techniques and providing behavioral health resources to children but also restoring a spirit of trust among the adults in our school districts.
A collaborative investment by all stakeholders is required to create these conditions for success.
Executive director, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
Executive director, Massachusetts Association of School Committees
President, William James College
School staff are left to grapple with dearth of available care providers
Re “Report eyes greater role for schools in behavioral health crisis” (Metro, Jan. 21): And so we wait … for public outrage to hit a tipping point over the dearth of available community mental health care. Some of us in public education and community mental health have been waiting for 30 years. Now public schools assume an ever-increasing portion of the economic cost of a decades-old public health crisis whose origins long precede the pandemic.
Insurance companies, among the “stakeholders” cited in the article, have no economic incentive to provide comprehensive behavioral health care, which is a loss leader when dissociated from the total cost of providing health care. These costs have been effectively shifted to the public sector and are exacerbated by an alarming shortage of people starting their careers who want to work in education or mental health as well as a shortage of pediatric psychiatrists.
Guidance and adjustment counselors, school social workers, psychologists, and nurses are working harder than ever, with fewer resources, to support seriously mentally ill students and their families and are left to explain what is unexplainable: why they’ll have to wait to be seen by a provider.
Thomas B. Danforth
The writer is a licensed school psychologist, a clinical neuropsychologist, and a certified health service provider. He holds a doctoral degree in counseling psychology.
Prevention is key to addressing emerging mental health concerns
There is no question that schools are essential partners in addressing the crisis in children’s behavioral health in the state (“Report eyes greater role for schools in behavioral health crisis”). The NAN Project’s work of providing middle and high school students with mental health awareness and suicide prevention programming using a peer-to-peer model has shown us that an upstream approach is critical to meeting young people’s urgent need for help.
As John Crocker, director of mental health and behavioral services for the Methuen Public Schools, noted in the article, prevention in schools is key. Students benefit from information that destigmatizes behavioral health issues and a school climate that encourages conversation and support. Professional development, not just for mental health staff but also for classroom teachers, can provide the tools and confidence for educators to identify and connect with students with emerging mental health concerns and refer them to resources.
An ambitious road map to address children’s behavioral health has been established, with far-reaching goals. Building capacity for prevention-based services must be among the plan’s priorities.
Founder and CEO
The NAN Project
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255.