Focusing on student behavior and mental health

Focusing on student behavior and mental health
Posted on 02/20/2023

Good afternoon!  This Thursday February 23rd,  at the School Board meeting, the Board will have its final reading and approval of Policy 236.1 - Threat Assessment.  I wanted to share with you why the Board has before it a policy on Threat Assessment and some data points on current student behavior.  Student behavior, mental health, and threats of harm - physical and emotional, are issues discussed every day across America.  The Center for Disease Control’s recent report on Youth Risk Behavior Survey results is relevant to Quakertown right now.  While the vast majority of our students exhibit positive behaviors and few to no discipline referrals, we still have a ways to go. 

Policy 236.1 - Threat Assessment is a new policy that codifies the requirements of Act 18, which amended the PA school code to add requirements for threat assessment.  Drafted by the Pennsylvania School Board Association, the base policy document was revised to match our existing threat assessment protocols.  Just like other new or recently reviewed policies, Policy 236.1 went through Board Policy Committee meeting discussion and a first reading before being recommended by the Committee for second reading and approval by the Board.  Included for your review is our own internal Quakertown Threat Assessment Checklist.  It is the actual checklist that our school administrators and school-based Threat Assessment Teams use when there is a threat. Threat Assessments are designed to preclude an individual from doing harm to themselves or to others.  This is either physical, emotional, or both.  Research is clear that the first line of defense against threats is fostering a welcoming inclusive school community in our schools. 

In 2014, Quakertown started building a robust series of protocols, processes, and procedures that implement best practices in safety planning, financing, and professional development throughout the district.  For example, at the district level we developed safety emergency plans with local First Responders and municipal leaders and routinely conduct “table-top drills” that role-play emergencies.  The Board also funded numerous projects and measures designed to protocol students, faculty, and staff.  Each school building has a Threat Assessment Team who is trained in Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (C-STAG). The team is made up of administrators, guidance counselors, and school psychologists. School Resource Officers are brought immediately into the discussion if a threat is deemed substantive.  

Student behavior, attitudes, and biases in public Pre-K-12 schools are a microcosm of what is going on in society, and in families. We know parents are children’s primary teachers.  While the School Board has policies and schools have rules, with expectations that students and adults are expected to follow while in school, it is not always the case.  Practices and habits learned outside of school like bullying, prejudice, racism, intolerance of differences, misuse of social media, and observations of adult abusive behavior are sometimes manifested in student behavior while in school.  Violation of Board policies and school rules have consequences, which are progressive and aligned with state regulations and federal law. Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in situations where our administrators, counselors, and teachers are subjected to adult abuse during parent meetings when their children are being held accountable for misbehavior. 

In Quakertown, we are doing our best to bring every student up to the same level on the behavior playing field.   We use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to create and instill self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and making responsible decisions.  These programs and their implementation have been a part of Superintendent Goals for several years.  We infuse opportunities to learn these habits during morning meetings, assemblies, counseling sessions, health classes, et al.  

Last week’s February 13th Center for Disease Control Report, US Teen Girls Experiencing Increased Sadness and Violence and Youth Risk Behavior Survey highlights some good news and some troubling data about student behavior and mental health.  In summary, over the past 10 years some health and well-being has gotten better, but experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts have gotten much worse.  According to the YRBS, at the high school level,

  •  Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago, 25% made a suicide plan.
  •  1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year—up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.
  •  More than 1 in 10 (14%) had ever been forced to have sex—up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.
  •  More than half (52%) of LGBQ+ students had recently experienced poor mental health and, concerningly, that more than 1 in 5 (22%) attempted suicide in the past year.

These are national statistics, and Quakertown is a small microcosm of it. The mental health and behavioral issues have grown over the years and go well down into our elementary schools.  A day does not go by without at least one Safe2Say tip and/or student behavioral issue rising to my attention.  

How can you help?  A high performing student achievement culture thrives when it is inclusive, and where respect, tolerance, and appropriate norms of behavior are the standard expectation.  Please take the time to discuss student behavior with your child(ren).  Take a few moments to read principal emails home that address their building level concerns, so that you can continue to support your child’s school(s) at home. 

Thank you for reading.  The Board ([email protected]) and I look forward to your feedback.

Bill Harner


[email protected]

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