Missouri ranks poorly for alcohol and drug-related incidents in schools
COLUMBIA – School is a few weeks in, and a top priority for administrators all over mid-Missouri is keeping students safe. Data released by the Department of Education each year shows incidences of crime and violence in schools. In 2015, there were 841,100 reports of nonfatal victimizations like theft and violent crime in schools, which is almost 300,000 more incidences than reported for juveniles away from school.
“I think you have to be careful when you talk about crime because we are dealing with juveniles, which is a little bit different than dealing with adults who may commit unlawful acts,” said Michelle Baumstark, the director of community relations for Columbia Public Schools.
Data from the Department of Education’s crime report stated in 2015 the average alcohol-related discipline incidents per 100,000 students was 45, but Missouri is one of the few states that came in above that rate at over 100. For drug incidents, the average was 389 while Missouri’s was 741. Columbia followed that trend having a higher rate of drug-related incidents than alcohol.
Columbia Public Schools partners with local law enforcement, outreach counselors, guidance counselors, home school communicators, student services and safety and security directors to ensure that school is a safe environment.
However, it is not just about working within the school system, but also the community.
“Recognizing that we have to partner with our community because we don’t have the students all of the time, we have them for such a small percentage of what their daily lives are like, that we really need to make sure that we keep a positive relationship with different community organizations that can provide support for our students when they’re not with us,” Baumstark said.
CPS is making sure that if incidents within schools do happen that they are handled with a restorative practice. Baumstark said, “It’s not only about providing a disciplinary consequence for them, but it’s also about the next step of that? Which is, what to did you learn and how could we have resolved this particular situation differently or what choices would you have made differently?”
The district has significantly lowered the amount of out-of-school suspensions, with 129 in 2013, 36 in 2014, 25 in 2015 and 16 in 2016.
“We’ve really worked very hard to get all of our suspensions down, our out-of-school suspensions in particular because you’re not learning when you’re not in school,” Baumstark said. “We have our A-Center where students can go so that they’re still completing their course work, but they just can do it in the regular school environment.”
However, the district wants to ensure that students are not just physically safe, but also mentally.
“We are working with several community agencies including the Boone County Mental Health Coalition with regards to providing additional resources and access to information when it comes to suicide prevention, you know dealing with traumatic incidences that may have happened within a family,” Baumstark said.
The Boone County Mental Health Coalition works with teachers, students and parents all over Boone County to support social and emotional health for all students.
“Asking teachers what they perceive for their students in terms of concerns and risk factors, risk areas, we also ask kids how they feel about themselves, their emotional state and their friendships peer relations,” said Lou Ann Tanner-Jones, director of the Boone County Mental Health Coalition.
The organization provides support in terms of small group interventions or one-on-one intervention, connecting students and families to outside agencies for support and professional development.
“We problem solve around the data in order to help with whatever the school has determined is a need, so for example maybe a teacher says, 'We have students that are very anxious.' We have evidence-based intervention that we can provide for teachers to use in the classroom, maybe different ways they can interact with students,” Tanner-Jones said.
The organization also provides helps with traumatic incidences in and out of the classroom.
“There was a very sad situation where a student passed away in Hallsville, and several of us went to Hallsville school and helped them with answering questions and meeting with their students and their community members and their staff members to answer any questions and provide supports that those students and staff and community members needed,” Tanner-Jones said.
Teacher perception is a large part of the work that the Boone County Mental Health Coalition does because a lot of information it receives comes from what a teacher says about a student.
“Our work is mostly prevention, we do some intervention of course, it’s mostly prevention and that is fundamental to helping students get the supports they need and delay any kind or actually average any kind of mental health concerns that they might have develop in their lives,” Tanner-Jones said.
Several years ago, voters passed a mental health tax to provide additional funding to support mental health initiatives like the Boone County Mental Health Coalition, which is funded by the children’s services fund.