Two schools of thought on student safety: police presence, and behavioral health

Comprehensive school behavioral health systems Promote safety rates, academic success and attendance, and help reduce special education referrals, school disciplinary actions, emergency room visits and hospitalization, and the prevalence and severity of mental illness.

Every student deserves to feel safe at school, and a concerted effort to implement comprehensive behavioral health services and prompt support in every district will help create that safe space.

Mary McGowan

Executive Director

Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children


A barrage of sexual images in the media is generating a rise in misconduct among schoolchildren

The Globe reported last week that a Boston city council member was using an increase in reports of sexual misconduct and assaults in Boston public schools to justify a call for tighter security at schools, including the reinstatement of a police presence (“Number of sexual assaults in dispute,” Metro, Jan. 23).

Tightening security or having police in schools will do nothing because sexual harassment and aggressive sexual behavior is everywhere, not just in schools, and is supported by the broader culture.

The general public has been conditioned to accept this as normal. The explosion of sexualized depictions of women and girls in media of all kinds regularly bombs girls and boys. These pictures were seen only once in pornographic magazines, and were usually hidden behind store counters. Now they are daily fare.

In addition, Internet pornography, a multi-billion dollar industry, is not just a click away, but it also appears while young children are playing innocent computer games. Children are exposed to Internet pornography at an early and early age. The images they see can normalize the exploitation and abuse of girls and women. Why are we surprised when kids behave in schools?

Unless we begin to challenge the normalization of this sexual exploitation and abuse—at home, in schools, and in our larger society—the numbers of sexual misconduct and abuse will continue to grow.

Instead of putting police in schools, how about classes where boys and girls are made aware of the existence of a safe space to discuss the effects of sexism, the sexualization of women and girls, and the pornography industry, and where they can explore alternatives and solutions that direct them toward relationships of care and mutual respect instead?

Pastor Cheng Im Tan


The writer is the founder of the Asian Domestic Violence Task Force.

Schools are fertile ground for fixing what has been broken by the pandemic

a A report by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans This month illustrates the decades-long crisis in children’s mental health in Massachusetts and across the country. In the fall, the American Psychological Association and the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the emotional consequences of COVID-19 continue to take a toll on large numbers of young adults and older adults. These are our students and the many parents, teachers and volunteers who make up our schools.

Behavioral health problems affect attention, concentration, memory, motivation, and organizational skills required for academic success. Two years of emergency management have disrupted the relationships and shared vision among the adults who oversee our learning communities.

Schools are the perfect environments to fix what has broken the pandemic. Predictable actions, emotional bonding, and teamwork can help kids deal with stress, promote positive relationships, and build resilience. Decades of social and emotional learning research confirm the positive impact of inclusive, culturally responsive, and supportive environments on psychosocial development and academic progress. Likewise, the daily work of adult stakeholders committed to children’s intellectual and emotional development provides opportunities to rebuild the relationships and shared vision required for successful social systems.

While we are concerned about ‘learning loss’, we want to stress the need to recover all that has been lost in our learning communities. Recreating safe and supportive school climates is the first step in helping students learn. This means not only investing in social and emotional learning technologies and providing behavioral health resources to children but also restoring a sense of trust among adults in our school districts.

Collaborative investment by all stakeholders is required to create these conditions for success.

Thomas Scott

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents


Glenn Kocher

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Commissions


Nicholas Covino

President of William James College


The school staff is left to deal with the dearth of available caregivers

repeats “Report looks to greater role for schools in behavioral health crisis” (Metro, Jan. 21): And so we wait…until public anger reaches a tipping point over the dearth of community-based mental health care available. Some of us in public education and community mental health have been waiting 30 years. Now, public schools are bearing an increasing share of the economic cost of the decades-old public health crisis that long predates the pandemic.

Insurance companies, among the “stakeholders” mentioned in the article, have no economic incentive to provide comprehensive behavioral health care, which is a loss leader when decoupled from the total cost of providing health care. These costs have been effectively diverted to the public sector and exacerbated by an alarming shortage of people starting their careers who want to work in education or mental health as well as a shortage of child psychiatrists.

Guidance and adjustment counselors, school social workers, psychologists, and nurses are working harder than ever, with fewer resources, to support students with serious mental illnesses and their families, and are left to explain the inexplicable: why they have to wait until they are seen by a provider.

Thomas B. Danforth


The writer is a licensed school psychologist, clinical neuropsychologist, and certified health provider. He holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology.

Prevention is key to addressing emerging mental health concerns

There is no doubt that schools are essential partners in addressing the behavioral health crisis for children in the country (“Report looks to greater role for schools in behavioral health crisis”). The work of the NAN Project to provide middle and high school students with mental health education and suicide prevention programs using a peer-to-peer model demonstrated that an upstream approach is critical to meeting young people’s urgent need for help.

As John Crocker, Director of Mental Health and Behavior Services at Methuen Public Schools, points out in the article, prevention in schools is key. Students benefit from information that destigmatizes behavioral health issues and a school climate that encourages conversation and support. Professional development, not only for mental health staff but also for classroom teachers, can provide the tools and confidence for teachers to identify and communicate with students with emerging mental health problems and to refer them to resources.

An ambitious roadmap for addressing children’s behavioral health has been developed, with far-reaching goals. Capacity building for prevention-based services should be a priority of the plan.

Elaine Dalton

Founder and Chairman of the Executive Board

Jake Cavanaugh

Executive Director

NAN project


The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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