Tennessee Starts Its Own School Safety Panel As the White House launches a federal task force on school safety, Tennessee has one of its own. David Greene talks to Dr. Altha Stewart, who is on the newly formed working group.
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Tennessee Starts Its Own School Safety Panel

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Tennessee Starts Its Own School Safety Panel

Tennessee Starts Its Own School Safety Panel

Tennessee Starts Its Own School Safety Panel

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As the White House launches a federal task force on school safety, Tennessee has one of its own. David Greene talks to Dr. Altha Stewart, who is on the newly formed working group.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, the Trump administration is moving forward with its response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. This weekend, it announced a new federal school safety task force. The president, though, seems to be backing off some gun control measures that he seemed to have supported. That includes raising the age limit to purchase certain types of guns, though White House press secretary Sara Sanders is leaving the door open.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Right now, the president's primary focus is on pushing through things that we know have broad bipartisan support or things that we can do from an administrative perspective that we can do immediately. But we haven't let go of some of those other things that we're going to continue to review and look at.

GREENE: Now, in the meantime, some states are moving ahead with their own school safety measures. And the school safety committee of Tennessee has already had its first meeting. Dr. Altha Stewart is on that committee. She is also the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association, and she joins us this morning.

Dr. Stewart, welcome.

ALTHA STEWART: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So your committee, as I understand it, met for the first time last week. Was there one specific idea for how to respond to this shooting and this moment that seemed to have broad support in your committee?

STEWART: Well, for our first meeting, the agenda was to review what we currently do and to look for opportunities for each of us from our respective areas to recommend some ideas and strategies for how we could improve what we're doing to promote a safe, secure environment in our schools.

GREENE: Improve what you're doing - is - I'm hearing you say that there are not bold, new, different ideas that this committee is talking about - at least, at this point.

STEWART: Well, not at this point. We wanted to set a foundation to ensure that everyone involved in this, whether it was school personnel, mental health professionals, government officials and others from the law enforcement community - we wanted to make sure that we all understood what we're currently doing to get a framework in place that was the foundation for what might change and how we might better work together.

GREENE: You - I mean, as I'm sure you've been following it, and people around the country have been following, many of the students in Parkland came forward and have become incredibly vocal advocates for action to reduce access to guns. Is your commission equipped to push for changes like that when it comes to access to guns?

STEWART: Well, I can't say what the final outcome of the working group - the governor's working group on school safety will be. I can tell you that from the standpoint of prevention, we're looking at all options that might be open, whether that's improved access to mental health services for children who are recognized to be in crisis and who might prevent a threat - present a threat at some point in the future - we're looking at how teachers can be better trained and supported in their efforts to identify kids in crisis. And we're looking at how families might be helped. I'm from - I'm really moving at this from the mental health standpoint. So my focus is on what we can do to create - or prevent these things from happening before they do, or to create an environment where we're better able to identify that they may happen, that people are at risk for them happening or that people might need services to prevent them from happening.

GREENE: I know you've been pretty vocal. I mean, and mental health is obviously your area of expertise. You've been vocal about how focusing on mental health problems can drive young people into the criminal justice system. Is that a concern here as you look for sort of new ways to tackle mental health problems?

STEWART: Well, I think you're talking about my day job as the director of the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth.

GREENE: Right.

STEWART: And yeah, in my regular working day, I focus a lot of effort on helping to identify children who have undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, who, by virtue of the behavior that comes with being at risk for other things, seems to drive them on a path into the juvenile justice system. The work, however, on the school safety commission may involve some of that, but primarily, it's going to be on looking at kids who haven't been identified yet as having a problem but may be in crisis.

GREENE: The Legislature in your state is already considering a plan to allow some teachers to carry guns, which has been a controversial possible solution to all of this. And when Florida approved a policy like that, some black lawmakers said arming teachers could endanger African-American students. What do you think of that?

STEWART: Well, I think the whole issue of guns and increased use of guns as a means of providing safety is one that we're going to be talking about for a long time. There certainly are some implications as it relates to who will have guns, what - how they will be used, how they'll identify the threat in a school environment during a time of crisis that we all have to be part of the discussion and work out the details of. Our working group, at this point, has not begun discussing that. And, you know, maybe over the course of the next few weeks, we will.

GREENE: Dr. Altha Stewart is the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association. She is also on Tennessee's new state task force on school safety. Dr. Stewart, thanks a lot.

STEWART: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "PEACEFUL WARRIOR")

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