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Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is pushing for a system that would help Florida school districts spot and treat mental illness in students early on.
The senator has been working on the proposal, included in SB 1434, since last fall. It comes amid a national dialogue about the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tragedy and what could have been done to prevent it.
“Different districts have different responses to students that are either acting out or having issues,” she said, “but we don’t really have a statewide policy.”
Introduced by Passidomo and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K through 12 Education, it would require school districts to establish partnerships with local mental health providers and train school staff to recognize symptoms in troubled kids.
Passidomo held workshops with school superintendents from around the state and discussed what social issues are of concern in their districts; substance abuse and mental health were among the top concerns.
She explained the program is meant to help divert kids from going down a dangerous path by recognizing symptoms early on and getting them help.
“We don’t have a mechanism to divert them from that path,” she said. “Teachers know who these kids are, but they’re powerless to do anything because we don’t have a structure in place.”
This week, she heard from student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre who came to the Capitol to press legislators for stiffer gun restrictions.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that would dispute that someone (who) has a mental illness or mental health issues should be able to purchase any gun,” Passidomo said, replying to one student’s question.