The faces of victims of school violence or suicide are forever etched in our memories, reminding us of the tragedy of each life lost and the dreams that will never be fulfilled as families and friends left behind struggle to cope with unimaginable grief.
In Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), our focus on the well-being of all students is paramount to our mission.
To that end, over the past two years we have made training available to all counseling professionals, school administrators, and school police officers on the early-warning signs of emotional at-risk behaviors.
More important, we have imbued all of our employees with a sacred responsibility to seek immediate assistance for any student exhibiting signs of suicide or homicidal ideation, plan or threat.
As a result, and as one might expect, a numbers-to-numbers comparisons between M-DCPS and other districts will show that M-DCPS demonstrates a higher number of referrals for crisis intervention.
That comparison alone does not demonstrate the complex factors which support those referrals.
We are fortunate at M-DCPS to have our own School Police Department that can quickly respond to calls when a student is in crisis.
We take pride in the collaboration between School Police, county agencies, and community-based organizations in their efforts to implement juvenile arrest diversion programs. Their success is evidenced by a 60 percent reduction in the number of juvenile arrests since 2010-2011.
As the data illustrate, Miami-Dade County is not alone in demonstrating a sharp uptick in the need for crisis support.
Between 2000 and 2010, trend data show a dramatic statewide increase of 79 percent in the volume of involuntary crisis interventions which may be attributed to a variety of societal and economic difficulties being experienced by all Floridians.
During 2010-2011, M-DCPS School Police carried out 684 transports involving crisis incidents and possible involuntary crisis interventions for juveniles and adults combined.
This year, 646 transports have been conducted. While these numbers may seem excessive to the public, particularly in comparison to data from other school districts, we believe that what we are seeing across our district mirrors state and national trends.
It is important to note that school police officers do not “Baker Act,” individuals, but rather transport individuals in crisis to healthcare facilities where they can be evaluated by qualified healthcare clinicians who ultimately determine if an individual should be retained for further treatment under the provisions of the Florida Mental Health Act.
Due to the confidentiality of medical records, M-DCPS does not have data on the number of students who are ultimately admitted for treatment.
However, it is our belief that the vast majority of students are released to their parents, along with information regarding available resources and interventions to support the student and family.
Moreover, we are proud that heightened awareness among our school-site professionals of at-risk behaviors is saving lives. The commitment of our staff to take the necessary steps to intervene in response to students in crisis is a fundamental duty that we wholeheartedly embrace in the fervent hope that we can prevent one more life from being lost and avoid a tragic outcome for yet another family.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools does not apologize for referring students for crisis intervention and assistance.
Better to increase referrals, than to cope with the impact of any one student who might have been missed.
Milagros R. Fornell is associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.