ST CLOUD, Fla. – From the aftermath of an active shooter to the untimely passing of students from unfortunate car accidents and everything in between, local school districts have teams in place ready to respond when our students need them the most.
In Osceola County, the school district has Crisis Intervention Teams in place that are trained to support students, staff, and parents immediately following an event, with the ability to help as long as needed.
Given Trooper Steven Montiero’s background as a law enforcement officer, as well as his assistance on the on the Osceola School District Safety and Security Committee and Chairman of the School Resource Officer Task Force, Montiero was given access to the teams to learn specifically how they work and how they get results for students and staff.
He was able to speak at length with school board member Julius Melendez and Coordinator of Student Services Angela Burdue.
Trooper Steve: Safety and security. Pretty, pretty important to you. Not only just being a school board member, but being a father, I’m sure.
Julius Melendez: Yes. And kids speak now. And kids have, you know, when I first grew up, there was no internet on your phone and everything like that. I had beepers back in the day when I was in high school. Now they’re aware of it. Every time there’s a mass shooting, every time something happens, students know. The days of innocence of them, just, you know, letting the adults do everything. They’re paying attention. And they’re watching the news. They have social media, and they see the feeds. So they know, they understand the gravity if, that when something happens, and they need to do training, they need to do fire alarms, they need to do active shooter trainings, it takes on a whole new level of understanding.
TS: I hear you. Do you think there is a sense of, almost, complacency on behalf of the student to where you guys have to be constantly creative, positive and different ways to interact with them?
JM: That happened initially, when when we’re talking about the days of Columbine, you know, it was so far removed. But the unfortunate reality of society today, it’s almost becoming everywhere, you know, so when they hear about it happening at malls and at different high schools and other colleges, students now, believe it or not, are now taking it more seriously. There’s always one-offs of some student that wants to be a rebel and kind of wants to do their own thing. But the reality is, when it first occurred, the first mass shooting, everyone was like, that’s not my backyard. You know, I mean, that happens in you know, Massachusetts, that happened in New York, and that happens in Colorado. That doesn’t happen here. But the reality then Marjory Stoneman Douglas happened in Parkland, then it became a reality in Florida.
TS: This is a topic a lot of people don’t want to talk about until a major crash happens and someone loses their life or a student, tragically, something occurs or even a teacher. But you guys have a team in place that is working around the clock.
JM: Crisis intervention teams have existed for a long time. The reality, though, is we never had the funding from the mental health allocations from the state of Florida until about 10 or 15 years ago, to fully staff it. Because it’s a difference to have an idea, this is what we’d like to do, and actually have a dedicated funding source from the state of Florida to be able to do that. Because at first my thought process was the crisis intervention team was, you pull the teacher and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing double-duty’. I’m proud to say that now, the allocation of crisis intervention are nothing but support professionals. They’re psychologists, mental health therapists, to social workers, they’re people fully trained in their initial career.
Angela Burdue: So the total number for crisis team members is 75. They’re out at schools every day working with students, family, supporting schools, but then they have a day a week where they are on the crisis team, they’re on call. If there’s a call and we need to be at a school, we have a team of people who are on call for that day. Each team has around 20, maybe 15 to 20 people, not every person needs to go out for each crisis. Some crises are smaller events where a few students need support. And for those, the school staff may be able to support, but a larger crisis may be the death of a staff member or student, we may need to send out 10 crisis team members to support.
TS: Unfortunately, in the middle of night, a tragedy has happened with someone involved in the school. Who’s making that call? And where’s that call going? And how does that trickle down?
AP: So how we find out about it may vary. Our safety and security group within the school district has good connections with law enforcement. So sometimes that’s how we find out, sometimes the principal is informed because it’s their child or their staff member, and then they will reach out to our area superintendent. But once we hear students services are notified that something has happened, one of the first things I would do is to reach out to the school principal, so that we know what the school principal needs from us. We’ve had cases where the principal calls me and is crying because her student has died. And so then we’re able to provide guidance of, here’s how we can help you.
TS: So you’re not just there for the student. You’re there for everybody.
AP: And then once we have an idea of what the principal would like, then I start reaching out to the crisis team leads for the day, we pick our team, you know, who needs to go, how many people do we need, and we start working on the logistics, we’re going to meet at this time on this day at this school, here’s what we’re going to do. And then we have a crisis information sheet that is sent out to everyone who needs to know the plan.
TS: What happens when that call comes out of violence in the schools how, obviously you’re not running to the school?
AP: It’s a different level of response. And one of the things that we train on as a part of the Prepare curriculum is there are some crises that are building level crises, right? You know, a student got a one on the FAST and is very upset. Some things require more of a district level response, death of student, death of a teacher, our district crisis team goes out. But there are certainly events that are regional level responses. A school shooting would be one of those. When we had the hurricanes here, when we had the tornadoes years ago and had so much damage, that’s a regional level response. So with a school shooting in Parkland is an example of that. That was so many agencies and so many districts going to support that community. The first part of that, you know, when that phone call was made, would be our safety and security department, they are the ones who would handle getting everyone safe. We have a reunification process. If we need to evacuate a school, where did those students go? You know, how do we communicate with parents where your students have gone? While we’re keeping them safe? We had fires at a school I worked at one year and had to evacuate everybody into the fields, you know, so we had to have a plan for what that looked like. And then how do we contact parents? But our safety and security department is that kind of first responder in terms of dealing with what would be something like a school shooting or violence on school campus. And then once that part is been brought safe, then the crisis team comes in to provide that more emotional support to the students to the staff there at the school.
TS: Where would you say parent involvement is when it comes to the success of the child that might be in crisis?
AP: It’s vital, it is so vital. So, the parents really know their child best. They’re going to know that child better than anyone at the school is going to know. And they’re going to be the ones that child goes home to and looks for comfort. So one of the things that we do as a part of the crisis team is we do informational materials that can go home to the families. So it might be something like, something difficult happened at our school today, a classmate of your child died. Here’s some things that you may see and what grieving looks like that’s normal. A child who is five and experiences the death of a classmate may say ‘I want to sleep with mom’, may suck their thumb, you know, or an older child may also become much more clingy than they used to be. So we provide some education for families about what’s normal grieving. And then if the student is having something beyond normal grieving where to go for more support.
JM: At the end of the day, we want our parents to know that they feel safe and secure when they take our kids to school. You know, this isn’t something that’s an after-thought. We’re not reacting at the moment whenever something happens. We already know who’s going to go to a school, what their purpose is, you have a defined mission. And I just want parents to know that the school district of Osceola County takes safety and security seriously, not just before the incident, but after the incident occurs.