Minnesota schools will soon have the chance to apply for part of over $10 million designated for school mental health and safety. The funds are part of legislation passed in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the money can be used in a variety of ways — to hire additional school social workers or pay for better communication systems in school buildings.
“The funding now can be used to make sure that the buildings are safe, it can be used to increase the number of school social workers and support staff that can help address any mental health supports that students need,” Cardona told MPR News.
“I know in other places staff are going to look to increase security by making sure they have good working walkie-talkies when students are outside and that they have a good communication system inside the building where if the school leader has to make an announcement, every corner of the building can hear it,” Cardona added.
The Minnesota Department of Education will develop a state grant program to distribute the money. It has not yet announced details about who can apply or the size of the grants. That information will be made available in the coming days and weeks.
James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metro State University and author of the book, “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic,” said the legislation, which has elements of gun control as well as funding for school mental health support, is a step in the right direction.
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He urged Minnesota officials to use the new infusion of money to design a grant program that can be turned into something sustainable.
“Ideally what this is is a first step toward building the evidence base that can be turned into sustainable policy,” Densley said. “What we have to make sure is that there’s a plan in place to evaluate whatever it is we’re doing to then build the evidence base that this should be sustained going forward beyond the lifecycle of the grant and after the money dries up.”
Densely discouraged schools from using grant money to invest in infrastructure to “harden” school buildings — things like metal detectors, bulletproof furniture, or security guards at building entrances.
He approved of the mental health emphasis in the bill saying school safety is about “supporting the most vulnerable young people and ensuring that their social and emotional needs are met.”
But he warned that caution was needed when tying mental health to school safety.
“If we just repackage this as a mental health problem, that can get lost in translation and could end up stigmatizing the broader community in terms of mental illness. And drawing a direct line between mental illness equals violence, which is not true. The evidence does not support that. So I think it comes down to, it’s the right thing to do, but let’s ensure that it’s translated properly to the community,” Densely said.
Minnesota, like the rest of the country, has seen gun violence incidents at school events, even in the last few weeks since the start of the new academic year. Nationwide, there has been an uptick in gun confiscations, shootings and hoaxes this year.