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Huntley Project School teacher Darci Silbernagel

Huntley Project School teacher Darci Silbernagel practices disarming National Guard Sgt. Michael Williams during an active shooter training at the school in 2016.

Montana will get about $500,000 to bolster mental health programs and teacher training from a new federal program approved after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. 

President Donald Trump signed the STOP school violence act in March as part of a larger funding bill. STOP provides $75 million for the current fiscal year and $100 million per year for nine years after that to fund things like threat reporting systems and mental health initiatives.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction will use the grant to train teachers and administrators better in school safety topics and to educate students in social-emotional learning and bullying prevention. 

Application materials focus on the state's rural nature. 

"Clearly, the rural nature of Montana results in a variety of elevated risk factors related to school violence," one document reads. "The state has few mental health and law enforcement resources and high educator turnover."

The document notes the 2016 murder-suicide perpetrated by the then-superintendent of Chester-Joplin-Inverness, and how the small town was ill-equipped to cope with the fallout. 

"The one licensed social worker in the community and one school counselor for K-12 district were both grieving and incapable of supporting an entire community."

That puts a greater burden on educators, the application says: "Because mental health care access is so challenging, schools need training on how to care for students with informal supports."

STOP Act

The federal program was heralded as a significant step toward improving school safety; in a recent press release, Montana's Republican Sen. Steve Daines, one of 43 co-sponsors of the bill, said it would "help prevent future tragedies by stopping violence before it happens."

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However, that money comes at the expense of funding that was previously allocated for a research and implementation program for school safety initiatives. 

The Arlee School District — whose basketball team gained national recognition last school year for suicide prevention efforts as the community grappled with several recent suicides — also received about $150,000 through a different section of the grant, the Threat Assessment and Technology Reporting Program.

OPI is also hoping for a second grant to come through to help schools create emergency preparedness plans. By law, schools are required to have such plans, but schools have few resources to help craft them. 

“These federal funds would help us do it better,” OPI spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said. “These two grants would complement each other very well.”

Montana's acceptance of the $500,000 isn't yet official, as the OPI reviews compliance requirements, but Klapmeier said he didn't expect any issues that would prompt the state to decline the money. 

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