When the state’s General Assembly passed the Maryland Safe to Learn Act earlier this year, much of the focus, particularly in Carroll County, was on the addition of armed resource officers in school buildings, to protect against threats like we saw unfold in Parkland, Florida, and Southern Maryland.

Carroll had begun implementing some of these strategies before the law went into effect, and this year has School Resource Officers from the Sheriff’s Office in every high school. But the legislation also required some improvements regarding mental health services in schools.


During last year’s legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly moved forward with the Maryland Safe to Learn Act, which, while deals with school resource officers, also has a strong focus on mental health help for students.

The law required each local school system appoint a mental health services coordinator by Sept. 1 of this year, according to the Maryland Association of Counties. That person is to coordinate existing mental health services and referral procedures within the local school system, ensuring a student who is referred for mental health services receives them, and to maximize external funding for mental health and wraparound services. The coordinator is also responsible for developing plans for delivering these behavioral health and wraparound services to students who show signs of concerning behaviors.

Presently, Carroll County Public Schools does not have a mental health services coordinator. Instead, the responsibilities are being shared by the CCPS’s supervisor of school psychology and school counseling. Dana Falls, the director of student services for Carroll, said the school system is applying for grant money from the state to fund a full-time coordinator for the first year, then build the position into the school system’s budget going forward.

It is both a proactive and reactive role. If a threat were received by a student within CCPS, the coordinator would be brought in to collaborate with the threat assessment team to determine whether the student was in need of mental health support. However, the person’s primary responsibility would be non-crisis mental health support, serving as a service provider in addition to being a coordinator.

Right now, “It’s really only the kids in crisis that get the support and the preventive work is almost impossible to do,” Falls said. Falls is chairing a task force that is looking into elementary school behaviors. The Kirwan Commission is also expected to include recommendations on mental health and wraparound services in its final report, due at the end of 2018.

Anyone who has been following Carroll politics knows that education funding has been a hot topic for a number of years, and the picture hasn’t exactly been rosy as enrollments declined and then leveled off, a key factor in determining the state’s level of funding. The Board of County Commissioners has had to bear the brunt of the funding burden, and CCPS has made several cuts along the way, squeezing out positions through attrition. During this past year’s budget cycle, the BOE included some behavioral specialists in its budget request, but ultimately had to drop those because of a lack of funding.

While certainly the primary function of our public schools should be to educate, we cannot discount the role and importance of these wraparound services when it comes to keeping our children safe. Our commissioners have been quite supportive of the SRO program, but it is a reactionary response to any bad act that may be committed on our schools. Make no mistake, it is important. But equally important, if not more so, is trying to address in a proactive manner the mental health of students who may be inclined to carry out such acts and even those who may never do such a thing, but are still struggling with mental health and behavioral issues that are an impediment to being successful learners.

Sooner rather than later, it will be necessary to expand the number of preventative mental health supports in public schools. Elected officials should likewise be proactive in preparing for the additional funding such needed services will require.