WHEATON – DuPage County students and school personnel will have the opportunity to receive training focused on school violence prevention as a result of a federal grant and County funding. The DuPage Regional Office of Education (ROE) has been awarded a three-year $400,000 Students Teachers Officers Preventing (STOP) grant by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to initiate a countywide mental health training program. As a condition of the grant award, the County will provide matching funding of $133,000.

“In collaboration with DuPage County schools and other partners, the ROE will work to implement the DuPage Trauma Informed Schools Initiative (TISI) to train school personnel and students using a comprehensive care approach that focuses on prevention of school violence due to unmet mental health needs,” said DuPage County Regional Superintendent, Dr. Darlene Ruscitti, in a written statement.

The multi-tiered training and student support program will provide mental health education and include focused training to address the needs of students exhibiting troubling signs of adverse childhood experiences and/or trauma.

Earlier this month, Dr. Ruscitti informed members of the DuPage County Judicial and Public Safety Committee of the grant award. Members of the committee pledged their support for the ROE’s training program.

“There’s nothing more important than the safety of our students and school staff,” said Grant Eckhoff, Chairman of the County Judicial and Public Safety Committee, in the news release. “We are pleased that Dr. Ruscitti has approached school safety in such a collaborative, proactive manner looking for ways to address underlying social, emotional and mental health issues that can lead to behavioral problems and school violence.”

Spring 2018 discussions addressed mental health & safety issues in schools

Last spring, the DuPage ROE conducted eight focus groups that included 320 school administrators, teachers, deans, counselors, school resource officers, high school students, community members and parents to discuss mental health and safety issues in DuPage County schools.

“These focus groups confirmed that while school security and safety are priorities, there was consensus for the need to build stronger relationships with isolated students, strengthen Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), increase mental health supports and help youth with stress reduction and work with parents,” shared Dr. Ruscitti.

The focus group data was brought to the DuPage County School Safety Task Force which was formed in 1999, shortly after the tragedy at Columbine. The Safety Task Force, comprised of school, police, fire, homeland security, FBI and government representatives, meets every two years and makes recommendations based on current data and best practices.

DuPage County Safety Task Force Recommendations

Based on data collected from the focus groups, the Safety Task Force made the following recommendations:

  • Develop a model policy for every school (public and private) to use as a best practice/guide to be used with current safety plans.
  • Provide Behavioral Threat Assessment training.
  • The need for additional mental health training.

Work focused on developing a model policy and providing Behavioral Threat Assessment is well underway in DuPage County and the STOP Grant will address and fund the need for additional mental health training.

TISI activities will also coordinate with the work of the DuPage School Safety Task Force. This work will focus on enhancing safety drills with a focus on reunification plans and providing proper mental health supports during and after a crisis.

“I believe what makes DuPage County stand out is the proactive stand we take on the many issues that impact our schools, our neighbors and our citizens. I am proud to be a part of such a great leadership and I look forward to implementing this initiative,” stated Dr. Ruscitti.

Submitted by Evan Shields, Public Information Officer, for DuPage County Board.