OPS approves trauma-informed education plan

Graphic by Owensboro Times

The Owensboro Public Schools School Board on Thursday approved an improved trauma-informed education plan. District officials said the plan builds on many strategies already in place to meet the needs of students and families.

According to new legislation, every school board in the state must develop a plan to implement a trauma-informed approach in their schools by July 1, 2021.

At a minimum, the plan should include strategies for:

  • Improve awareness of trauma throughout the school community
  • Conduct a school climate assessment, including, but not limited to, inclusion and respect for diversity
  • Develop disciplinary policies that take trauma into account
  • Working with the Kentucky State Police Department, Local Sheriff, and Local Police Chief to Create Trauma-Exposed Student Notification Procedures
  • Provide services and programs designed to reduce the negative impact of trauma, support critical learning, and foster a positive and safe school environment for every student

“Some of these strategies were already in place,” said Summer Bell, OPS mental health coordinator. “It’s just about strengthening our trauma-informed education and training for our staff.”

Bell said the improved OPS plan includes five elements, including:

  • Improve trauma-informed awareness within the school community
  • Assess the school climate, including, but not limited to, inclusion and respect for diversity
  • Develop disciplines that take trauma into account
  • Working with the Kentucky State Police Department, Local Sheriff, and Local Police Chief to Create Trauma-Exposed Student Notification Procedures
  • Provide services and programs designed to reduce the negative impact of trauma, support critical learning and foster a positive environment for every student

One of the most recent actions was the hiring of Hanover Research to gather insights on the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion across the district at the OPS. Key findings presented earlier this month included insufficient discussion of diversity and prejudice; inequality based on socio-economic status, gender disparities and harassment; communication barrier; and a need for professional training related to equity.

The OPS has also taken other actions related to equity and diversity. They created a working group on equity; created a position and hired a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; David Phillips as new DCI Director; created a position and hired an EL Student Services Coordinator; and work to create more equal opportunities for all students.

Bell also took note of the Careful Handling, which allows law enforcement officers at crime or accident scenes to identify children who have been exposed to trauma and to notify the child’s school. No information is provided except the child’s name, age and school. The notice is sent in a confidential email and / or SMS notification to the child’s school before the start of the school day with the words “Handle with care”.

“Our district has really taken the lead in mental health and is trying to develop these services for our students,” Bell said.

She said they also look at the discipline from a trauma perspective, making sure they understand what is going on with the student to cause the behavior.

“Our schools are already very educated about trauma and realize that it affects students at all levels and that it affects their academics and their social / mental health,” Bell said. “A lot of these things are things we already do as a district. We are definitely going in the right direction. With the pandemic, I think society as a whole has seen an increase in mental health services. Even when our students returned, we found that they needed an extra layer of support. “



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