U.S. to Provide Trauma-treatment Grants for Students in Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago

(File photo by Michael B. Thomas)

By Tawnell D. Hobbs, wsj.com

Public school students traumatized by civil unrest in their communities can get professional help under new federal grants announced.

The U.S. Education Department’s Promoting Student Resilience program provided $1.4 million in funding to St. Louis schools, $2.4 million to Baltimore schools and $1.3 million to schools in Chicago. The funding is for the establishment of school-based mental-health, counseling and behavioral programs.

The grants target underserved communities where funding to address mental and emotional needs is often limited. The grants also come in the wake of protests following the fatal shootings of black males by police officers in several cities.

“Violence tears at the fabric of a school community, and the long-term effects can be devastating,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a news release.

St. Louis Public Schools plans to use the money to help expand and strengthen mental-health and social-support needs of children who are victims of traumatic events. The district also wants to increase the number of students who are screened and referred for mental-health services.

The August 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer sparked a week of protests, looting and arrests. A later Justice Department investigation found that police of the St. Louis suburb routinely violated the civil rights of the city’s black residents. The officer who shot Mr. Brown wasn’t indicted.

In Baltimore, the public school district aims to employ full-time mental-health professionals at the 13 schools most affected by civil-unrest-related trauma. School-based staff, community providers, parents and students will also receive professional development on how to screen for and respond to civil-unrest events.

Unrest broke out in the city in April 2015 after Freddie Gray, 25, died after sustaining a fatal neck injury in a police van. Hundreds of people were arrested after riots erupted following Mr. Gray’s funeral. Six officers—three black and three white—were charged in the incident, but their cases either ended in acquittal or were dropped by prosecutors.

The Chicago Board of Education plans to start a program that focuses on behavioral and mental health needs of students who attend 10 high schools in communities facing violence and civil unrest. Safe learning environments also will be created for students.

Protests erupted in Chicago in November 2015 after the city’s police department released footage of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a white police officer in October 2014. The officer was charged with murder, but pleaded not guilty. In the aftermath, the city’s police superintendent was dismissed and the Justice Department opened an investigation of the police department.

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