Kirksville schools discuss student mental health after national tragedy

Although there are currently no plans to alter school policies in reaction to the shooting in Florida earlier this month, Neil Chamberlain, Kirksville R-III School District board of education president, said the district has been discussing student mental health.

Chamberlain said the district is working to better equip teachers to recognize which students might be struggling, how teachers can help them, and what role administrators can play in that situation. Chamberlain also said there has been some discussion of hiring someone help students experiencing mental health difficulties. Another idea has been to connect students with mental health resources in the Kirksville community.

“I think one thing that’s going on right now is we have a really great student body,” Chamberlain said. “I see our students time and time again taking risks to help other students.”

Kirksville’s strength lies in its student body, teachers and administrators, Chamberlain said. He said he’s noticed students aren’t afraid to help one another get the support they need when they voice that need.

Chamberlain said beyond that, Kirksville has a responsive administration and helpful teachers who are focused on working with parents to ensure student safety.

“As an educator, you always want to help people,” Kirksville R-III Superintendent Damon Kizzire said.

The faculty at the high school have expressed an interest in hiring a school social worker, Kizzire said. He said the advantage of having a social worker is students have one more person to talk with if they’re experiencing any concerns, and the individual could make referrals and serve as the go-between for students, parents and faculty.

Kizzire said another idea is to create a student wellness center that is able to offer more counseling than is currently available through the school. The center might offer that social worker role in this location to work with the students or groups of students and to refer students to the type of care which best fits their needs. These ideas are still being discussed, and it all comes down to funding, Kizzire said. Kizzire said the community does seem to support the process.

When it comes to school security, Chamberlain said the district already has several measures in place. In addition to the school resources officer, all the school buildings have clearly numbered and lettered doors that can be used to help first responders navigate campus in the event of an emergency. Chamberlain said the district is working to limit access points to the different buildings across campus. Many buildings already have a buzzer system in place, and the district hopes to fully implement that system at the high school in the next year, Chamberlain said.

As an added measure, Chamberlain said when Kizzire started as superintendent, he implemented a walkie talkie system across the R-III campus and with the school busses that can be used for communication in the event of an emergency. This system allows for quick communication without relying on electricity or the phone lines, which might become overloaded in emergency situations.

“Communication is always something a school district struggles with,” Kizzire said. “And we’re always striving to meet those needs.”

Chamberlain said there has been no discussion of arming teachers in the classroom.