Schools boost security, student support with federal grants, new state money
Nevada school districts and charter schools are investing about $8.4 million on initiatives focused on students’ well-being and improving school safety. Those efforts include hiring specialists focused on attendance and behavior, additional school police officers and new fencing and security cameras.
The funds from the Stronger Connections grant program are part of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which aims to reduce gun violence and was signed into law last year. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said he cast his vote to pass the legislation on the 30th anniversary of his father dying as the result of “a senseless act of gun violence.”
The federal legislation included $1 billion to help schools across the country implement strategies to create safe and healthy environments on their campuses.
“Nevadans are horrified by the epidemic of gun violence that continues to steal away lives, devastate families and shatter communities across the country," Horsford said in a statement. “I'm proud that Nevada is swiftly acting to deliver these grants to our communities. Over $8.4 million to our school districts for these programs will reduce crime, save lives and break the cycle of violence."
The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) allocated the state’s share of the funding to nine school districts and 11 charter schools including the Carson City, Clark and Washoe county school districts and Doral Academy of Northern Nevada.
NDE announced earlier this month it was one of the first state education agency in the country to finish distributing the funds dedicated for schools.
School officials say student mental health problems, behavioral issues and chronic absenteeism have ramped up since the pandemic began. Across the state, schools have been struggling with an increase in school violence against students and, at times, teachers and other staff.
School safety was a major issue discussed during the 2023 legislative session. This year, the governor and lawmakers approved a pair of student discipline bills, AB285 and AB330, that will give school districts and charter schools greater flexibility to suspend and expel students as young as 8 years of age for offenses including first-time battery with bodily injury and distribution of a controlled substance.
The Clark County School District, which is receiving the largest award, more than $1.7 million, plans to use the funds to purchase a new patrol car for a K-9 unit and a new mobile command center that the district police department can use during emergency situations such as large-scale lockdowns as well as for training. The district also plans to train and hire three new police officers dedicated to patrolling and responding to calls from middle school campuses.
“Having an officer on campus adds that layer of security because the kids see that officer on a daily basis so they're less apprehensive to act out violently toward their fellow students, or hopefully bring firearms or other contraband like drugs onto campuses,” Clark County School Police Lt. Bryan Zink said in an interview.
He said the new police officers will also teach anti-drug and anti-violence lessons at the middle schools they serve as part of the district’s effort to expand the Law Enforcement Against Drugs & Violence (L.E.A.D) program to more schools.
In addition, Zink said the district is using other funds to hire three additional social workers within its police department, bringing its total to six. These social workers provide students and families with wraparound services or connect them with outside resources.
Doral Academy of Northern Nevada, a Washoe County charter school that serves nearly 1,000 K-8 students, is taking a more proactive approach to curb major disciplinary actions by using the $210,000 in grant funding it’s receiving to hire a behavioral health specialist to help students when they are acting out and disrupting their classes.
“This behavior intervention specialist would be trained in putting together plans of support that were super individualized for the student,” said Doral Academy of Northern Nevada Principal Angela Orr, “and then be able to do check-ins and check-outs each day with the student determine their needs (and) work with their teachers and the counselors and other staff to ensure that the student's needs are being met in a much more proactive way than focusing on discipline on the back end.”
Oasis Academy CEO Melissa Mackedon said her charter school, which serves about 700 K-12 students in Fallon, east of Reno, said the bulk of its $182,000 award to bring on a part-time licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). That person will come on-site and provide one-on-one mental health support to the school’s most at-risk students in response to the “huge” uptick in trauma-related behavior and suicidal ideation that her school has seen post-COVID.
“These issues are often outside the scope of a school counselor,” she said. “The (licensed clinical social worker) these students need are often inaccessible to many families. The bottom line is they are not going to reach their potential academically until these social emotional issues are addressed.”
The remainder of the grant will pay for security cameras for Oasis’ new high school building that’s in the works, Mackedon said.
Christie Perkins, director of grants and special projects for the Carson City School District, said the nearly $383,000 it is receiving from the grant program will be invested in a variety of efforts such as a re-engagement and attendance specialist, and hiring a campus security monitor who will work alongside administrators and the district’s school resource officers at Carson High School, which serves about 2,300 students.
The Washoe County School District will receive nearly $1.85 million in grant funding that will go to the district and three charter schools it sponsors: Coral Academy of Science Charter School, Mariposa Language & Learning Academy and Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School.
Lauren Ohlin, the district’s grants director, said the funds will be put toward hiring mental health professionals at the schools. Additionally, the district is using its portion of the funds, about $1.2 million, to bring on an additional specialist who will provide case management support to students transitioning out of alternative schools for students with behavioral issues or correctional settings, and updating the visitor management systems. Mariposa and Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School are using a portion of their funds, $80,000 and $350,000, respectively, to beef up security by adding fencing and cameras.
“Really the only way to serve these kids is to get more people in the schools who are qualified to provide these services to students,” Ohlin said.
In addition to the federal grant funding, school districts and charter schools are getting a funding boost thanks to the additional $2 billion that Nevada lawmakers and the governor approved for K-12 education for the next biennium.
Orr said Doral Academy in Northern Nevada’s per-pupil funding is increasing from nearly $7,000 to close to $9,000, and the school is investing some of its new funds to hire another social worker to work with students.
The Washoe County School District’s per-pupil funding will increase from about $7,300 to more than $9,243. The Washoe County School District is also investing $1.5 million from its general fund to hire eight additional school police officers to increase law enforcement presence at its middle schools as well as a lieutenant and a dispatcher.
On Tuesday, its school board approved another $2 million to add single points of entry to schools district wide to control the flow of traffic coming in and out of schools.
Correction: July 5. 2023 at 9:55 a.m. This story has been updated to reflect that the Nevada Department of Education was among of the first agency to complete distribution of safety grant funds.