Hillsborough school system reveals plan to address student mental health

Hillsborough County Public Schools is making major changes to some of its procedures

The new plans are part of state requirements signed into law by Governor Rick Scott following the Parkland school shooting.

With a little more than a week until school starts, the district is finishing up some requirements for school safety.

Adding to physical measures, a plan was passed Wednesday changing the way students with mental health issues get help.

In a 7-to-0 vote, Hillsborough County School Board members voted unanimously to approve a 30-page mental health plan.

"It makes me feel more secure," parent Amanda Mermelstein said. "That my kids are going to be more safe and educated."

It comes amid criticism the FBI is facing for failing to take action after receiving tips about the suspected Parkland gunman before the shooting. Some argue the rampage could have been prevented if the FBI had taken action so now school officials will be trained to recognize missed red flags and act on them before tragedies happen.

"The mental health component is that each school will have a threat assessment team," Hillsborough County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent of Operations Chris Farkas said. "If a student brings a threat to them, they will have a team of people who can look at it and see if that's a valid threat. There's also a responsibility that students self-report. If there's issues that come up when you enroll in the school, they'll make sure the school knows if there's an issue and what we can do to support those students."

As Farkas explains, the district's mental health plan will provide treatment and recovery services to students with mental health issues and help coordinate services with the student's primary care provider.

As part of the plan, district employees - from bus drivers to custodians - will undergo youth mental health first aid training, which will teach staff members how to help teens in crisis who may be suffering from anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder.

"I just feel good that our money in the Hillsborough district is going to be used in a very good way," Mermelstein said. "To hopefully prevent some of these shootings."

"Parents have to be comfortable with dropping their kids off at school," Hillsborough County School Board Member Melissa Shively said. "And be assured they can learn in this environment so we want to make sure that it is the safest place for our students to be."

District officials are also making improvements to security, including, adding buzzers to about 80 schools over the next few months. Anyone who wants to enter will have to be buzzed in from the office. This will make it easier for schools to keep track of who is entering and exiting the school at all times.

The first day of school for Hillsborough County Public Schools is Friday, August 10, 2018.