Schools calling for health help

Published: Jan. 8, 2020 at 10:14 AM CST
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Mental health issues are showing up in North Dakota classrooms, and teacher representatives are calling for the creation of a state-wide school safety center.

Few school districts keep track of such data, but the West Fargo district has reported more than 100 classrooms cleared because of student behavior this school year.

Over the past few years, the state's Education Policy Committee has been implementing policies and strategies to help schools handle students with mental and behavioral health problems.

"From a teacher's point of view, everything that the student does is a behavior. There are appropriate behaviors; there are inappropriate behaviors. Every single behavior communicates,” said Dr. Lori Garnes, North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities.

According to the CDC, 4.5 million American children have a diagnosed behavioral problem, but most signs of a disorder aren't noticeable until adolescence. While pressure is put on teachers to receive proper training to handle such a student, professionals argue that teacher's aren't counselors.

"It's difficult for them in that moment to determine, 'how do I safely intervene given my role as a teacher or as an administrator, because I'm not necessarily trained to handle a student who's wielding a chair or some other weapon?’” said Anne Richards, West Fargo School District specialist.

One strategy is a room clear, when students are removed from a classroom because of a behavioral incident. The West Fargo School District has already lost more than 1,000 minutes during November alone from room clears. If there are twenty students in a classroom, that number goes up to 20,000 minutes lost.

Legislators say they hope to improve teacher training and practices by creating a state-wide data collection system during the next legislative session.