The Parkland Commission, tasked with investigating the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has released its second round of recommendations. In them, the commission calls for mental health services funding in schools throughout the state.
The commission released earlier recommendations around school security. The latest report focuses on systematic changes that could possibly prevent future school shootings.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is the head of the Parkland commission, warned that complacency was one of the greatest risks to school safety. Per reports, Gualtieri said, “Everyone needs to proceed with a sense of urgency to make Florida’s schools as safe as possible because there will be another K-12 active assailant attack in this country. The only questions are when and where.”
The need for mental health funding came along with the discovery that Florida was underfunded. The state’s per capita mental health funding is among the nation’s lowest.
Recommendations also included better coordination of services and information-sharing between government agencies.
Andrew Spar, Vice President of the Florida Education Association (FEA) agrees wholeheartedly with the recommendations, calling the need for additional mental health funding more than a mere school issue, but “a community issue.” Spar tells, Parentology, “A student in crisis usually means there’s a family in crisis.”
Spar agrees the current system makes it difficult for kids in crisis to receive needed treatment. Noting some school counselors in the state may be responsible for 600 to 1,000 students.
Spar says the FEA wants to see a system in place that enables a teacher to identify a potential student in crisis and alert a school counselor to meet with that student and assess them. If the school counselor feels there’s a need for mental health services, they would then contact social services and/or a school psychologist. “So far no one is talking about doing any of that,” Spar says, “because it requires funding.”
While the Parkland Commission didn’t specify a specific amount for mental health funding, the FEA has. They’ve proposed a $2.4 billion investment in the public schools of Florida. Of that money, $1.1 billion would be allocated to mental health programs in schools. Spar notes even that investment won’t solve the problem entirely, but would be a step toward closing the loop.
The FEA is cautiously optimistic the new Parkland commission recommendations may encourage legislators to move on more mental health program funding. Legislators have acknowledged the need for additional mental health services and passed legislation addresses this. But funding has been nothing like the $1.1 billion that the FEA is seeking.
Spar is hoping the mindset will change, “The simple solution has been, quite honestly, let’s arm teachers and fortify our schools, making them like prisons, rather than actually dealing with the problem.”
Parkland Commission — Sources
Andrew Spar, Vice President, Florida Education Association