Coalition of principals to Congress: ‘Here’s how to help prevent school shootings’

Coalition wants Congress to increase grants that help schools recover from shootings from $5 million to $25 million.

The Principal Recovery Network of building leaders who have experienced school shootings is pressing Congress for several billion dollars worth of mental health and safety support for staff and students.

Members of the network, including the former principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the current principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, visited lawmakers last week to alert them to the unending trauma endured by victims and communities that have experienced school shootings.

“We’re asking for the conversation to stay on the front burner and to convince legislators not to get complacent about school safety,” says Elizabeth Brown, the network’s co-facilitator and former principal of Florida’s Forest High School, which she took over two months after a student was shot and wounded by a school intruder in 2018.

“We want to be able to never have to say ‘never again’ ever again,” Brown states.

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The Principal Recovery Network is a team of current and former school leaders assembled by the National Association of Secondary School Principals to help guide building leaders in the immediate aftermath of shootings or other violence. Members of the network will reach out to a principal shortly after a shooting occurs to tell them what to expect (e.g., a lot of calls from the media) and help with decision-making (when to reopen school) in the days and weeks that follow.

The group wants Congress to build on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which provides schools $1 billion in “Stronger Connections” grants to prevent and respond to acts of bullying, violence and hate. The network urged lawmakers to pass the $5 billion Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act that would help schools hire more mental health counselors and other care providers. It also wants to see the Supporting the Mental Health of Educators and Staff Act of 2023 enacted to develop best practices schools can follow to prevent suicide and improve mental health among K12 staff.

The organization also encouraged Congress to pass:

  • Increasing Access to Mental Health in Schools Act: This would increase the number of mental health professionals in schools serving low-income families.
  • RISE from Trauma Act: $600 million would help create community-based coalitions to expand trauma care in schools, hospitals and other facilities.
  • Mental Health Services for Students Act: Provides $130 (million?) to expand programs that place on-site mental health professionals in schools.

The coalition also pressed Congress to sharply increase spending—from $5 million to $25 million—on Project SERV grants that fund recovery efforts in K12 and higher education. It also wants to see healthy funding levels for a range of budget programs that support arts education, professional development for teachers and administrators, training educators in trauma-informed care, and effective use of technology.

“Our emphasis is on mental health as a piece of prevention,” says Warman Hall, who was principal of Aztec High School in New Mexico when a former student sneaked into the building and shot and killed two students in 2017. “The more we fund effective school counseling and mental health, it helps support measures like threat assessments and identifying kids who are struggling.”

The network’s members are diverse politically and want both parties in Congress to work together on school safety in the same vein as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed, Hall continues.

“Columbine was close to 25 years ago and there still are issues they are facing, like swatting and crank calling,” says Hall, who is now the Aztec Municipal School District’s federal programs director. “When it comes to improving student mental health and safety resources, we need to build on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to look at recovery with a long view.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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