At LSSND and Imagine Thriving, we believe that any efforts that emphasize a student’s mental health are a positive step toward helping kids find well-being before they are in crisis.
However, many of North Dakota’s students have already reached the crisis point. North Dakota's teachers have seen a rise in violent incidents from students in recent years. In Bismarck, schools saw 343 school safety incidents, with 70 percent of these incidents involving aggression toward peers or staff throughout the 2017-18 school year. Statewide, there were 2,610 violent or drug-related incidents in school that resulted in suspension or expulsion.
Thankfully, the North Dakota’s state legislature has recognized this crisis and will be researching student behavioral health throughout the next year. As directed by Senate Concurrent Resolution 4004, the Education Policy Committee will be looking at the “impact of students who experience behavioral health crisis or who engage in intense and aggressive behavior for communication purposes. . .” Ultimately, the goal is to develop a uniform reporting system to ensure accuracy, transparency, and consistency across school districts.
We know that oftentimes a violent outburst is a result of trauma, abuse, or other behavioral health concerns. The resolution recommending this study argues that “students who experience behavioral health crisis or engagement in intense and aggressive behavior for communication purposes deserve effective and up-to-date screening, assessment, and treatment strategies to address their needs.”
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction operates under the philosophy that “the best invisible security is built in student relationships.” As most kids spend a significant part of their day at school, there are unique opportunities for prevention, intervention, and positive change.
While individual school districts in places like Bismarck and Fargo have been allocating more resources to behavioral health support, rural school districts simply do not have the same capacity to do so. Often, schools in rural districts will share a counselor part-time across several districts. Also, students living in these rural areas must travel significant distances to find mental health services.
That said, this study is a step in the right direction. Creating a universal reporting system would be a move to create uniformity across North Dakota’s rural and urban school districts. Furthermore, this study is another step to bridge the gap between the psychological and physical components of school safety.
We know that it is not possible to truly impact a student’s well-being if we look at them in pieces. That is why this study and any subsequent legislation is so powerful. By avoiding single strategy approaches and looking at each student as a whole, administrators and teachers will be better equipped to provide each student the tools needed to thrive.
– By Micayla Bitz