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10 years after Sandy Hook, schools focus on mental health

More than 16 initiatives are in place across Connecticut schools to respond to social and emotional needs.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker was part of the department’s team that spent long days and nights at Sandy Hook.

“I remember the day when all the educators came back in one building and to be there not sure what was going to happen in that space," she said. 

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers rallied together in a bipartisan manner. Policy changes required schools to come up with security plans. Now, those plans go well beyond metal detectors and fortified doors.

“Just recently in 2021, a mental health annex was added to that school safety, so districts have to start looking at mental health supports," said John Frassinelli, a division director at the state education department. "There’s an inordinate amount of planning going on around school safety and around school mental health." 

The pandemic only heightened social and emotional challenges. And, after 19 children and two adults were killed in Uvalde, Texas in May, they now regularly send toolkits to districts about how to respond. 

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“Add all these things up you’re trying to get over something and then something else hits," said Russell-Tucker.

Last year, state lawmakers allocated $100 million to address social and emotional needs in various ways, including $28 million in grants, “to hire more staff in schools, more social workers, more psychologists, more school nurses to be there for students and our staff," said Russell-Tucker. 

Crisis services have also been expanded. Parents can now dial 2-1-1 for assistance if children are experiencing severe behavioral challenges.

But officials said the best tool is a one-on-one connection. 

"Making sure that there’s an adult a student can connect to so they know someone cares if they come to school," said Frassinelli.

Samaia Hernandez is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at shernandez@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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