The shocking murder of 20 children and six adults at Newtown Connecticut’s Sandy Hook school urged school officials in the Eastern Sierra to take another look at school security and mental health issues.
Tuesday, Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer will hold a meeting on school safety plans with local law enforcement, mental health and school officials. McAteer said that along with several school superintendents and principals, Inyo Mental Health Director Gail Zwear would attend, along with Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze and Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter.
McAteer said all the schools have safety plans, but the Connecticut shootings made everyone wonder if they are doing everything possible. Said McAteer, “We want to respond in a proactive manner. It makes you look again.” Officials will look at the susceptibility of local school campuses to intruders, and they will consider whether they are identifying youths who need help.
Before the Connecticut tragedies, McAteer said Inyo and Mono Schools received a California Department of Mental Health grant which created North Star Counseling in centers at Bishop Elementary and Mammoth High schools. McAteer said 100 local families are receiving weekly counseling right now.
The Superintendent said a lot of these people were not getting services either because they couldn’t afford it or their problems were not severe enough to get county mental health services. North Star charges $35 a hour and some get free services with vouchers handed out at local schools.
McAteer said after the Columbine High School shootings 13 years ago, school officials concentrated on high school students. Now, they are looking earlier at elementary and middle-school kids who are “truly troubled. Those who are bullied. The loners or angry kids.”
Tuesday’s meeting will focus on mental health services but also on what law enforcement has learned about campus security. McAteer said later his office will organize a series of community forums to share school safety plans with concerned parents and families.