Franken: Student mental health key in helping school security

Sen. Al Franken
In a file photo, U.S. Sen. Al Franken speaks on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at Saint Paul RiverCentre. Franken on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, met with educators in Minnesota on the issue of school security. The conversation ranged from school security to better monitoring the mental health of students to prevent future violence.
MPR Photo/Anthony Kwan

Sen. Al Franken met with school officials Monday in Eagan to discuss school safety, three weeks after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The conversation ranged from school security to better monitoring the mental health of students to prevent future violence.

Dakota Hills Middle School, south of the Twin Cities, handles school security like many Minnesota schools. Traffic into the school is tightly monitored, Principal Trevor Johnson said. All non-student visitors who come through the front door must be checked-in by an employee.

"Our doors are locked all the time, every day, except for the front door," Johnson said.

Still, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, schools across the state are taking a closer look at security.

During their meeting with Franken, Johnson and other school officials said there could be some adjustments to school security, but overall they feel Minnesota schools are already doing a good job.

As an example, they point to the four lockdown drills each school is required to do every year.

They do not agree with the National Rifle Association's push for armed guards in every school. Nor do they favor a proposal from Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, to allow teachers to carry weapons.

After the meeting, Franken told reporters evaluating school security is important, but he is more concerned with putting additional mental health workers in schools, which he said could help prevent future school violence.

"One of the things we need to do better is identifying mental health issues earlier in a child's life," Franken said.

Franken serves on the education committee in the U.S. Senate. The Democrat said he will push for federal funding to boost the number of school counselors, social workers and psychologists.

According to the past president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association, Chris Otto, the ratio of counselors to students in Minnesota is one of the worst in the nation. On average there are more than 750 students per counselor.

"We really need people in the schools that have the daily contact with students and with parents and can really have the ongoing interaction to support them," Otto said.

Otto hopes Minnesota lawmakers consider boosting education funding so more mental health workers can be placed in the state's schools.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.