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Oklahoma commission hears from school security experts

The Oklahoma Commission on School Security had no discussion during its first meeting. The group opted instead to listen to experts in school security, education, mental health and law enforcement.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: January 23, 2013

He did have specific recommendations, such as requiring each school to have a safety specialist who has completed specific training.

Educators must be alert and willing to learn, said Kim Carter, director of the Oklahoma office of Homeland Security.

Free classes offered through Carter's office are one option. School staff members need to know about prevention, equipment and intervention, he said.

Everyone from educators to law enforcement must learn from previous attacks to help prevent future incidents, he said.

“We really don't want to believe that this might happen in my school,” Carter said. “We really don't want to believe. That's really the most dangerous thing for all of us.”

Commissioner says training needed

Mental health first aid training needs to be common for educators, said Terri White, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“One in every five of our kids is sitting in our classroom with a mental health or addiction issue,” White said. “Half of all mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14.”

Educators need to know the risk factors and warning signs, White said. Mental health first aid is like a traditional first aid class, she said.

“You have the general skills to know who to call and what to do until they get there to keep it from escalating to a full-blown crisis,” White said.

White said she recommends mental health training and awareness for the larger population.

The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent, despite the common misconception that they are. The myths surrounding suicide also must be debunked, she said.

Also, the commission heard from Melissa White, executive director of counseling for the state Education Department.

She said the Oklahoma School Security Act of 2008 has strengthened bullying laws in the state.

School districts are required to have a bullying policy, she said.

Policies have to include such things as education, prevention and investigation procedures.

Districts have to offer services not only to victims, but to bullies, as well, she said.