Connecticut's Office of Child Advocate has released a report detailing the need for mental health resources inside Waterbury Public Schools.
The report comes just one week before the district is set to start the new school year.
According to the 34-page document, the Office of the Child Advocate found that police were called at least 200 times to respond to student behavioral concerns during the 2018-2019 school year. The report sheds light on the need for more funding to equip schools and teachers with the right tools they need to better assist students.
School support and resources are two primary focuses in the state's latest child advocate investigation.
Sarah Eagan is the state's child advocate and was in charge of overseeing the investigation.
"I think in today's learning environment more than ever, social-emotional-learning is foundational to teaching and being a student," said Eagan.
According to the report, police were dispatched to elementary and middle schools to help assist with behavioral concerns classified as interventions at schools.
The investigation found that some students were put in handcuffs and detained.
"The call to having police respond to schools is what we have to move away from," said Eagan.
OCA found that more than 198 police reports are from calls made from elementary schools and schools with pre-K through eighth graders. The document notes that some of the children involved were as young as 4 and 5 and at least 141 Connecticut children under the age of 12 were referred to the court in 2018.
"One of the things we were really struck by these hundreds of police reports was how many young children yet as young as 8, 9, 10 years old were engaged in self-injury even suicidal behavior," said Eagan. "We have to get serious about the prevention in our schools and reimagine embedding mental health support in schools."
If you would like to read the report, click here.
Waterbury Public Schools issued this statement to NBC Connecticut:
"Waterbury Public Schools is troubled by the findings of the Office of the Child Advocate and we continue to review and implement services and supports for our most vulnerable students and to respond to students in crisis. Currently, we are transforming our crisis prevention model to Safety Care intervention, a nationally recognized model grounded in applied behavioral analysis and de-escalation techniques, with 300 staff members participating in professional development today and tomorrow.
"A number of the incidents referenced in the report took place in our BDLC (Behavioral Disorder Learning Center) program. Waterbury recognizes the need to provide a robust and preventative model for its BDLC program. Under the new administrative structure, the Waterbury Pupil Services Department is actively redesigning the BDLC program to better meet the needs of students. In the Summer of 2020, a Professional Learning Community (PLC) composed of Special Education Supervisors and Principals began re-writing the entrance protocols for the BDLC program. In the redesign of the BDLC, programs will be revised to focus on more positive aspects of supporting students. The programmatic and curricular redesign work will begin in the fall, with teachers joining the PLC.
"Waterbury will also be undertaking a districtwide approach to Social-Emotional Learning for ALL students, not specific to only special education students, providing ongoing trauma training to our staff inclusive of school guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, behavior technicians, prevention specialists, school psychologists, social workers, and speech/language pathologists."
NBC Connecticut also reached out to the State Department of Education about funding to help students and teachers:
The department will devote CARES Act funding to supplement the development of a statewide SEL framework that will support educator professional learning and implementation of evidence-based programs. In addition, the department will:
- Provide professional learning through RESCs and SERC to support educators in providing social and emotional supports;
- Provide resources to districts for delivery of general behavioral and mental health screening; and
- Promote the implementation of universal SEL curriculum/programming at the district level and secure resources for outreach or professional learning on Equity, Implicit Bias, and Inclusion.