As Districts Seek Security Funding, Report Recommends They Prioritize Mental Health Services

Oct 14, 2019

Students from across the state say schools need to hire more mental health providers, fund more bullying prevention programs and solve data reporting gaps.

That’s according to a report compiled by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office that summarizes a series of sessions held last school year with teens across the commonwealth.

The report recommends that districts consider applying for the state’s School Safety grants to fund bullying prevention, mental health programs and other positive school climate initiatives. Last year the state issued $40 million in safety grants, but 75 percent of the grantees requested to use the money for school security planning and the purchase of security-related technology.

The second most popular request from schools was for trauma-informed approaches to education. Schools also asked to use the money for more counseling services for students, licensed professional counselors and licensed social workers.

Last year, another $7.5 million went to 25 municipalities, counties and higher education institutions for community violence prevention and reduction programs.

This year’s grant application ends Nov. 4.

The report also found discrepancies between bullying data reported by schools and the state annually, and data that students anonymously report through a new online tool, Safe2Say Something. According to the AG’s report, the online tool indicated a higher level of bullying than was accounted for by schools.

“Bullying is a pervasive issue affecting students across the Commonwealth— one-fifth of Pennsylvania students aged 12-18 are bullied on school property each year, and bullying disproportionately targets students of color, students with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

He said, as many researchers have noted, that bullying has taken on a new intensity with the use of social media.

According to a 2018 report from Governor Tom Wolf’s School Safety Taskforce, 16.5 percent of students surveyed in 2017 reported experiencing bullying through texting or social media. As for bullying on school property, only 63 percent of students said adults in their school stop bullying when they see or hear about it.

“It is critical that we listen to the students about what they are experiencing and what support they need, and that we act to ensure everyone feels safe at school,” he said