Kentucky must for the first time put “a real focus on the social and emotional well-being of our students,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt on Wednesday told state board of education members.
At the first Kentucky Board of Education meeting since a student at Marshall County High School was accused of fatally shooting two of his classmates and injuring 18 on Jan. 23, Pruitt said, “we have to have a greater focus.”
“We have to realize that our teachers are not armed to help some of our children,” Pruitt said, meaning that they weren’t armed with tools to help students with social and emotional issues.
“We shouldn’t wait for a tragedy. We shouldn’t wait and hope that we don’t have another problem like that,” Pruitt said of the shooting.
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Pruitt said the Marshall County High School in Benton shooting was “awful.”
“The young man who did this needed all kinds of help, but you know what, the people in the aftermath of that needed it, too,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said 31 counselors showed up from surrounding counties to help.
He said working on student social and emotional well-being is “actually going to be a new area that we’ve not been a part of in K-12 really.”
Pruitt said Wednesday that he didn’t have answers yet about what such an initiative would entail.
But he said several state agency heads whose work involves children have agreed to make it a priority.
“If nothing else we need to raise awareness,” Pruitt said.
On Jan. 8, the Fayette County Public Schools board set as one of its legislative priorities expanding and supporting mental health services for students.
At Fayette County’s December board meeting, board member Doug Barnett advocated for funding for mental health treatment for kids and Superintendent Manny Caulk agreed that child social and emotional behavioral health was an important issue for the district. Officials have said it’s one of the district’s growing challenges. District staff in January discussed the need to meet ongoing social and emotional health needs of students and called for an increase in therapeutic and mental health care for students.