School safety commission plans resource center, mental health programs
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2013
2/28/13 at 8:18 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Two key elements of the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety's forthcoming legislative platform appeared to come clear Wednesday: a new state resource center for school security training and mental health programs to intervene in school crises and return dangerous mental health patients to treatment.
State Director of Homeland Security Kim Carter told commission members that a state school safety and security resource center would be a "one-stop shop" for training teachers, law enforcement officers and others.
"We know what to do. We need to train people how to do it, and then do it," Carter said.
He said the plan's organization and governance should be left to the Legislature, but several members of the commission suggested that his Homeland Security Department should run the resource center.
"I don't want anyone thinking I'm here building a kingdom but I'll do what I'm asked to do," Carter said.
The commission - formed after December's mass killing of children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. - will present its final set of recommendations to the Legislature next week.
In addition to the resource center, two programs pitched by state Mental Health Commissioner Terri White seemed to be getting traction with the panel Wednesday.
White called for forming six three-person teams - one each for Tulsa, Oklahoma City and the four quadrants of the state - to find potentially violent mental health patients who have fallen out of treatment and try to get them re-engaged.
"It's a small number, but it's folks who are really dangerous," White said. "A lot of times, these are folks who simply drop out of the system."
White pointed out that Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on the campus of Virginia Tech University in 2007, was a known high-risk mental health patient and who had twice been written up by university personnel but was not being treated for his evident mental health issues.
Most mental health patients are not violent or dangerous, but the ones who are need to be monitored to assure they are being treated, typically with medications, she said.
White estimated the cost of the teams at a little less than $1 million a year.
The commission has considered the option of proposing an Oklahoma version of Kendra's Law, which would give judges broader authority to order potentially dangerous mental health patients to receive treatment or face institutionalization.
White said the team concept is an intermediate step in the same direction but one that would be more likely to match the state's limited resources for dealing with patient loads within treatment centers.
White also called for statewide training of school teachers, administrators and staff in "mental health first aid," in which they would learn how to recognize risk factors and warning signs among troubled students and intervene in a crisis situation until professional help arrives.
Such a training program would cost about $570,000 a year, she said.
People who complete the 12-hour training sessions would get a three-year certification, which could be renewed with shorter subsequent sessions, White said.
"For a small amount of money, we can make a huge difference," White said.
Again, White said, the plan's effect would be limited by the ability of the state mental health treatment network to deal with all the referrals created.
Sapulpa School Superintendent Kevin Burr, a member of the commission, said the state might be surprised by the high number of mental health referrals that will come from schools, if the door is opened.
White said she is committed to making sure there is an initial handoff of any crisis patient referred from the first-aid training, but she couldn't guarantee long-term treatment.
"As you can imagine, we have more people that need help than we can help on any given day," she said.
As with all mental health patients, the state will use a triage system to determine which patients are in the most urgent need of available treatment, she said.
"We turn people away every day," she said. "It's an absolutely inappropriate model of health care."
Oklahoma Christian School Headmaster Roger Webb, a member of the commission, said a team from the state Mental Health Department delivered an abbreviated three-hour version of the training to his faculty recently, and the information was fascinating.
"It's well worth the time," he said. "I would highly endorse it."
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, chairman of the commission, said the panel will have its final meeting next week, when it will roll out its final legislative package.
He praised the commission for moving quickly to put together an achievable package of ideas while the issue is urgent in people's minds.
"It's on everybody's mind now because of what happened at Sandy Hook," Lamb said.
That memory will fade, so it is important to respond quickly, he said.
Original Print Headline: School safety commission plans resource center
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Kim Carter: He said the resource center would be a "one-stop shop" for training teachers, law enforcement officers and others
Terri White: "We have more people that need help than we can help on any given day."