MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced Monday it partnered with a broad coalition of education organizations to release a framework and recommendations to address school safety.
The recommendations represent four areas that impact schools -- mental health, climate and culture, physical environment, and policies and procedures, according to a release. The DPI acknowledges that safety plans need to be tailored to meet the needs of each Wisconsin community and school.
"We know that mental health issues, bullying, substance abuse and other risky behaviors impair schooling for too many of our kids," State Superintendent Tony Evers said in the release. "This work provides guidance for improving the school environment so all students can graduate college and career ready."
The highest priority addresses mental health issues and the lack of appropriate services for youth, according to the release. Recommendations call for better coordination and integration of state and federal programs as well as exploring trauma-informed care, school-based mental health services and expansion of training programs and other treatment options.
"The biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey tells us that feelings of sadness and hopelessness affect a quarter of our students to the point they stop doing some of their usual activities," Evers said. "While the depressed student isn't likely to act out violently, when tragedy strikes in our schools we wonder what could have been done to prevent this. By working together, state, county, private and school resources should be able to provide better treatment options that help students improve their school and life function."
Safety recommendations targeting bullying call for more schools to adopt a prevention-based behavior system that help students learn from their transgressions as well as other best practices that promote a positive school climate such as character education, asset building, peer-lead efforts and anti-bullying efforts, according to the release.
The recommendations encourage schools to consider controlled access, visitor management and security technologies such as cameras, distress buttons and two-way radios, balancing safety and security with the desire to provide a welcoming environment, officials said.
The state already requires schools to have a safety plan, but the recommendations call for uniform templates for policies, creating local and statewide crisis response teams, exploring a statewide school safety center, creating school safety planning teams, implementing a safety assessment process every three years and implementing specific trainings.
"In a crisis, training takes over," Evers said. "Our schools conduct regular fire drills so staff and students know how to evacuate the building quickly. School safety training is equally important, though paying for facility upgrades and training strains school budgets."
The recommendations call for advocacy for funding or revenue limit exemptions to provide specific staff safety training, emergency management and readiness programs and equipment.
The recommendations were developed by education organizations that participated in the Wisconsin School Safety Summit last July.
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