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DeSantis signs bill setting deadline for school mental health assistance training

10 Investigates exposed that fewer than half of Tampa Bay-area school employees had gotten legally-required training to help them identify troubled students.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bill that sets a deadline for training required in the wake of the Parkland school shooting is now state law.

That section of the "School Safety" bill was introduced because of a story from 10 Investigates in March.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that bill into law on Tuesday.

Our investigation exposed that, as of January, fewer than half the employees at schools in the Tampa Bay area had gotten training, required by law, that could help them identify troubled students.

“It makes me feel angry,” Parkland school shooting survivor Isabella Benjumea told 10 Investigates in February. “I feel like teachers have to be more aware of who they’re teaching. You know, like, it’s our second home… There were signs from the shooter before this happened… There were cases of suicide after this shooting and it’s so sad that they couldn’t get the help they needed.”

In March 2018, Florida lawmakers passed new school safety requirements in the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act."

That law included a section requiring all school employees to get youth mental health awareness and assistance training.

The training is designed to teach school employees how to identify the signs of emotional disturbance, mental illness, and substance abuse. It also teaches those employees how to engage with troubled students and connect them to help.

“We learn what questions to ask, what steps to take next if we have concerns. And, you know what? It may potentially avert a crisis or a situation we don’t want our students to have to struggle with,” Suzie Dubose, a Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer at Sarasota County Schools, told 10 Investigates in February.

But the law requiring that training didn’t include a deadline for school employees to get it done.

After seeing what 10 Investigates found, Florida Senate Education Committee Chair Joe Gruters, a Republican who represents parts of Sarasota and Charlotte counties in District 23, added an amendment to his "School Safety" bill that created a deadline.

That section of the bill requires every school district in the state to notify the Florida Department of Education that at least 80 percent of school employees have gotten the mental health training by July 1, 2023 – and every year after that.

“I’m glad you guys were able to show us exactly what was going on because sometimes you pass laws and you expect the districts to follow it. But, sometimes, they don’t,” Gruters told 10 Investigates in February. “I just want to say thank you for bringing this to our attention. Without this investigation, we wouldn’t be aware of the noncompliance that’s happening in our school districts.”

The state legislature voted to approve the "School Safety" bill in March.

On May 25, the day after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Florida lawmakers sent the bill to DeSantis for his signature.

The law also extends the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission until July 1, 2026, so it can monitor the implementation of school safety legislation. The commission had previously been scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2023.

It updates the MSD Commission’s responsibilities, including “investigating any failures in incident responses by local law enforcement agencies and school resource officers” and “investigating any failures in interactions with perpetrators preceding incidents of violence.”

The law also requires that the State Board of Education consult with state and local constituencies to adopt rules governing emergency drills by Aug. 1, 2023. Those rules must include a requirement that all types of emergency drills be conducted at least once each school year. It requires that law enforcement officers responsible for responding to schools during an “active assailant emergency” participate in drills.

The law requires the Office of State Schools to develop a “model family reunification plan” for disasters. Each district school board or charter school governing board must adopt a family reunification plan.

Safe-school officers who are also sworn law enforcement officers will have to complete mental health crisis intervention training. Previously, only school resource officers were required to complete this training. Safe-school officers who are not sworn law enforcement must “receive training to improve the officer’s knowledge and skills necessary to respond to and de-escalate incidents on school premises.”

Under the new law, the Florida Department of Education will have to publish the newest school environmental safety incident data along with other school accountability and performance data online “in a uniform, statewide format that is easy to read and understand.”

You can read the full bill that was signed into law here.

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