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Student safety, mental health take center stage for new Palm Beach County school year

Posted: 8:00 PM, Aug 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-05 19:48:15-04
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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — A new school year is almost here, and the Palm Beach County School District wants students and parents to be prepared.

Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy and other school district leaders held a news conference on Monday to discuss the upcoming school year and new initiatives in the district.

🔽 WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE 🔽

All Palm Beach public schools start classes on Monday, Aug. 12.

Dr. Fennoy said the theme for back to school this year is "Ready, Set, Goals."

"We are asking students and staff to set goals to make this year successful," said Dr. Fennoy.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Back To School

School security is a top priority in Palm Beach County. The district recently surpassed a state mandate that requires a police officer or armed guard in every public school.

That mandate was a direct result of the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018.

School district Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said Monday there will be enhanced and increased visibility of police on school campuses.

"Communication is an important part of safety," said Chief Kitzerow, who encouraged anyone who sees something suspicious at school to report it immediately. "If you see something out of the ordinary, say something. It's very important."

The chief added the new Fortify Florida app can be used to report suspicious activity.

"We monitor it 24 hours a day," said Chief Kitzerow. "Very, very important tool."

RELATED: Palm Beach County School District police train for active shooters

School district officials also said every school will have a school-based mental health provider this year, which is a new feature.

"We are able to offer a lot of resources to the community when it comes to behavioral and mental health," said Keith Oswald, the Assistant Superintendent.

Oswald added the district hired additional 40 school psychologists for this school year, and 100 campuses will offer mental health services from partner agencies.

In addition, all students in 6th through 12th grades will receive five hours of mental health education.

"This is in areas such as suicide prevention, impacts of substance abuse, depression, recognition of signs of mental illness, and coping mechanisms," said Oswald.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Wellness June Eassa said adding a school-based mental health provider on every campus "gives us an opportunity for us to be able to increase our opportunities for both prevention and intervention with our students who are having difficulties."

Eassa said they work closely with the school police department.

"School police would of course handle anything criminal or any threats we are having and then we would be able to put resources in place for our students who are returning to a campus, need additional assistance," Eassa said.

The district also has two more mobile crisis teams this year, bringing the total to four.

School employees are receiving additional training this week for mental health issues. Last year, 60 campuses had co-located therapists from partner agencies who work in mental health to help counsel students. This year, that number is up to 100.

The Palm Beach County School District is coming off a strong year in terms of school grades. Last month, the Florida Department of Education said the district received an "A" rating for the 2018-19 school year.

The DOE calculates school grades based on things like student achievement and learning gains on statewide standardized assessments, along with high school graduation rates.

RELATED: School grades in Florida

For children in Palm Beach County who take the school bus, parents can look up their child's bus route by clicking here, or calling 561-357-1110.

All public schools in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties also start classes on Aug. 12.