Beginning in the next few days, parents in all 22 public school districts represented by the Stark County Educational Service Center will receive the compilation of resources.

Dear parent...

The multi-page packet of information coming soon to your home mailbox could very well help save a young life. Ideally, you'll read it, digest it and turn it into good old-fashioned refrigerator door reference material, say those who put it together.

Beginning in the next few days, parents in all 22 public school districts represented by the Stark County Educational Service Center will receive the compilation of resources aimed at preventing teen suicide and violence and improving school safety.

"We're viewing this as a community issue ..." said ESC Superintendent Joe Chaddock. "My goal is that every kid has a person who cares for them, and that is not the case now."

The initiative is just part of a response to a school year that's thus far been mired by a rash of teen suicides and a planned shooting at Jackson Middle School.

The packet includes:

• A letter to parents, which outlines recent collaborative efforts of school, law enforcement and mental health officials "to do everything ... possible to protect your children."

• An initial report on school building safety recommendations, prepared by the newly-formed Stark County Schools Safety and Security Task Force.

• Tips from the National Association of School Psychologists on how to talk to children about violence.

• Advice to help recognize suicidal warning signs, as well as a directory of local agencies to assist in mental health care, from Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery. 

The Safety and Security Task Force met once; more sessions are in the works. The 10-member committee is comprised of superintendents from urban, suburban and rural school systems and law enforcement officials, including Sheriff George Maier.

The sheriff said the Task Force has approached its work with the mindset that all options were on the table. That included everything from placing metal detectors in school buildings to arming school employees -- though there currently is no endorsement of the latter.

At this point, Maier said, metal detecting wands, rather than full-fledged detecting machines may be a viable short-term choice.

"We want reasonable recommendations," Maier said. "We're not trying to fortify our schools to be Fort Knox."

One suggestion that received unanimous approval from Task Force members is to hire more law enforcement officers for schools.

Task force members also agreed there's an urgent need for more mental outreach for students and families.

"We feel there is a huge void," Maier said.

John Aller, executive director fo Stark MHAR, said ideally schools will be able to identify potential student metal health issues, then do a "warm handoff" to those who can help.

Chaddock said there's an amazing spike in social media activity among students between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. That's not a good thing for vulnerable children.

"The social media world ... they're growing up in it," he said.

The Task Force report notes that no single segment of society can solve the teen death crisis. It states that solutions will require a combination of efforts from parents, students, schools, law enforcement, mental health, the private sector and state and federal legislators.

The report concludes with this:

"We should be aggressive and relentless in demanding these solutions. Our children deserve no less."

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