- Schools should take a comprehensive approach to violence prevention that includes not only improved safety measures but meets students’ physical, social, emotional, mental health and academic needs, according to a draft FAQ issued by the U.S. Department of Education for the $1 billion Stronger Connections grant program.
- Recommended activities under the grant, which is part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, are wide ranging but include reducing exclusionary discipline, hiring behavior specialists, and implementing anti-bullying practices. The guidance also said that if a school community decides to employ school resource officers, it should have a comprehensive process for hiring, training and program evaluation.
- The guidance is the latest in a series of recommendations and requirements for distributing federal funds to keep schools safe from violence and help students be mentally and emotionally well.
The funding comes as schools look to violence prevention strategies once again in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting in May and as student mental health concerns have increased during the pandemic.
The 36-page draft document discusses allowable activities for supporting student mental wellness, helping preschoolers, meeting the individual needs of students with disabilities, and responding to incidents of hate, as well as for purchasing and using security equipment like surveillance cameras and metal detectors.
In a letter to state education leaders in September, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona emphasized how funding should be prioritized for high-need districts based on poverty levels.
Other factors to be considered in awarding grants include: the need for mental health staff; where students recently experienced a disaster or traumatic event; and high rates of exclusionary discipline, chronic absenteeism, juvenile justice referrals, bullying/harassment, community and school violence, students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care or substance use.
The Stronger Connections grants will be distributed through Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. State education agencies will award competitive subgrants to high-need districts to establish safer and healthier learning environments, and to prevent and respond to acts of bullying, violence and hate, the draft FAQ said.
The Education Department is accepting feedback on the FAQ document, which when final will be nonregulatory guidance, through Dec. 19.