Making a BIG leap to improve school safety
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Every American wants to live in a safe community. They want to raise their families and send their children to schools that are secure and free of violence. But too often, that safety has been shattered by tragedy. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that we must combat this epidemic head on, but in the wake of these tragedies many people seek to threaten the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans instead of looking for a comprehensive approach that tackles the root problems that lead to violence and self-harm.

To look for solutions that get to the heart of this epidemic, I turned to the educators and experts in the 3rd District of Georgia. Schools like Columbus State University are leading the way and building a national model to keep our schools safe and our students successful. In 2008, university leaders like Dr. Chip Reese responded to the tragedy at Virginia Tech by creating a behavioral intervention program.

The National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) is at the forefront of this developing these programs. NaBITA describes behavioral intervention as a “focus on a caring and preventive approach that incorporates the school, the district, community resources and the family to support the student. Teams intervene with specialized knowledge to identify the earliest signs of potential crisis rather than waiting for clear signs of an impending threat and reacting. Teams develop success plans for students that may include disability support, treatment requirements, and academic assistance.”

In Dr. Resse’s words this model is similar to trying to catch a rock before it hits a calm pond. He said, “What we want to do is we want to reach out and catch that rock before it hits the water. We want to intervene before we actually have that impact. If we do that, we’re very very successful.”

In short, behavioral intervention is about giving every student the opportunity to thrive in a secure environment and making sure that those students approaching a crisis point get the resources they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

Every school should have the resources to achieve this level of success and safety for their students. That’s why I’m introducing the Behavioral Intervention Guidelines (BIG) Act. This legislation would task the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in consultation with the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and a wide array of stakeholders to develop best practices for behavioral intervention programs. HHS would provide technical assistance for elementary, secondary and higher education institutions looking to create their own behavioral intervention team and publish their findings on the official department website.

Dr. Reese is among those who has seen the potential of this legislation firsthand. He shared that as he has helped other institutions set up behavioral intervention programs he has “seen their culture change, where we’re helping people get back on track.”

There is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of our children, and nowhere is that more important than in their schools. We must halt the epidemic of violence and self-harm in its tracks, and the best way to do that is to attack the root of the problem. Behavioral intervention teams, like the one at Columbus State University, have repeatedly prevented potentially explosive situations from escalating. The BIG Act will help schools across the nation implement this life-saving program to ensure our students stay safe, healthy and successful.

Ferguson represents Georgia’s 3rd District.