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Arlee School District will receive about $150,000 to increase mental health resources for students and establish a crisis intervention team through the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s STOP School Violence Threat Assessment and Technology Reporting Program grant.

The grant will fund a project called “Keep Arlee Schools Safe” and provide money to the District to hire a full-time mental health counselor for the three-year grant period, Joan LaRocca, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, said in an email on Saturday. The grant will also be used to create a trained crisis intervention team comprised of existing staff, support staff, administrators, and reservation and community emergency services.

Anna Baldwin, the Arlee School District grants manager and an English teacher at Arlee High School, said she sees school safety as a two-pronged issue which encompasses planning for crisis situations and providing preventative mental health services to students.

“I am ecstatic that we were able to get this support for our school and our students,” Baldwin said. “It’s something that we have needed and I’m hopeful that it will make a difference.”

In her application for the STOP grant, she expressed concern that the Arlee School District, which serves 400 students in grades K-12 on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is part of a “suicide cluster” that extends reservation-wide. “The reason that I wrote that mental health counselor in there is because of that suicide cluster that we have here on the reservation and the community,” Baldwin said.

In her application, Baldwin noted that the community lost at least a dozen people of all ages to suicide in the past two years, including a student. Additionally, she said that about 5 percent of the district’s junior high and high school population was hospitalized either short-term or long-term for suicide threats in the 2017-2018 school year alone.

The District currently lacks a counselor dedicated to students’ social, emotional and mental health needs for grades 7-12, although there is a school counselor to provide mental health services to students in grades K-6. The counselors estimate that at least 25 percent of their students need weekly, one-on-one counseling for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Baldwin said the counselor for grades 7-12 is already responsible for testing coordination, overseeing student schedules and 504 plans, tracking students’ academic progress and preparing students for college and career readiness.

The grant will allow the district to hire a mental health counselor to serve middle and high school students, who will spend about 70 percent of the time in face-to-face appointments, and the rest of the time in screening, risk assessments, reporting and group therapy.

The STOP grant will also help Arlee create a safety and violence prevention plan. The District currently lacks safety protocols for emergency situations. Baldwin noted that past lockdown drills were met with confusion and that the school’s current safety committee is made up of teachers, administrators and support staff, who lack expertise in the area.

The District will use the grant to hire an outside consultant who will conduct a safety assessment, help create a crisis intervention team and conduct staff training.

“Every school needs a safety plan, and we all want to be prepared to take care of our students and our staff here,” Baldwin said. “You never know what’s going to happen and every time there’s a school shooting in the country, it puts everyone on high alert and makes everyone aware all over again that we aren’t really prepared yet.”

The grant awarded to Arlee is part of more than $70 million in grant funding the Department of Justice will provide to select schools nationwide through the STOP School Violence Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in March.

Recipients of STOP grants, announced by the DOJ on Oct. 2, will receive funding to bolster school security, increase mental health resources in schools, and educate and train students, school staff and law enforcement on how to prevent and respond to school violence.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction will also receive about $500,000 from the STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training program, which the OPI will use to develop training for teachers and administrators on various aspects of school safety, including mental health and bullying prevention, OPI spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said. The funding will allow OPI’s Health and Safety division to hire an employee to work on creating content for teaching best practices and offering professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators across the state.

“The topic of school safety involves many, many things; it’s not just about prevention,” Klapmeier said. “It’s about creating a positive school climate, but it is also about having those technology resources in place, those emergency plans in place, in case something does happen.”

Kalpmeier said the OPI is also waiting to hear back on a grant they applied for through the Department of Education which would allow the OPI to visit districts and help them develop their emergency operations plan.

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K-12 Education