Mental health leads school safety forum with state, local leaders
Mental health, not gun control or even the guns themselves, headlined Wednesday’s School Safety Task Force hearing at Erie High School.
“I don't think it's our role to tell every school that this is a blanket policy for what should happen,” said Marcus Brown, the state’s director for the office of Homeland Security. “I think we should probably look at each school and determine what the best policy is for them.”
The task force was formed in March by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale following the deadly shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school in February. Leading Wednesday’s forum with Brown is Pennsylvania Dept. of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera. The two met with nearly 30 leaders in local law enforcement, education, and students. This stop, their fifth of six on a statewide tour, where they say a demand for mental health treatment and accessible programs have been growing.
“Mental health support is the number one thing I hear from our principals as a need,” said Erie Schools Superintendent Brian Polito. “So anything the state can do to help us fund additional programs or supports would be very helpful.”
But when it comes to guns, the state isn't rushing to implement a blanket solution, according to Brown. They're listening to all options, but arming teachers isn't one of them, Rivera said. Students at Wednesday’s panel, say that's fine with them.
“We do not want teachers to be armed in our schools,” said Erin Fleming, a Collegiate Academy junior who has been one of the most vocal anti-gun violence advocates in region as a member of the Erie County Student Coalition. “It creates an air of tension that we don't want.”
Right now, students and staff at Erie High School conduct two lockdown drills to prepare for active shooter situations, Polito said. But that's not a requirement on the state level.”
“What we heard from kids today is that they want caring individuals they can track down and engage with to really not only report, but to have good, healthy conversations with,” Rivera said.
The task force plans to take their findings back to Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf. They could implement some of the recommendations before next school year, hoping to prevent a school shooting anywhere in Pennsylvania.
“It feels like people are finally listening to us,” Fleming said.