Del. police to notify schools when a student experiences trauma at home

Smyrna School District Superintendent Patrick Williams (third from left)talks about legislation allowing police to inform school leaders when a student experiences a traumatic event. (From left) Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, and Smryna Police Chief Torrie James stand alongside Williams in Carney’s Dover office. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Smyrna School District Superintendent Patrick Williams (third from left)talks about legislation allowing police to inform school leaders when a student experiences a traumatic event. (From left) Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, and Smryna Police Chief Torrie James stand alongside Williams in Carney’s Dover office. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

When a child experiences trauma like a domestic violence incident at home, the impact on their life can last weeks, months or even years. It can also have an immediate effect on their success in the classroom.

Gov. Carney signed a law on Friday that’s designed to provide more support for those students — immediately following a traumatic incident. The Take Care Delaware law calls for police or emergency care providers to inform school officials if a student is involved in or present at the scene of a traumatic event.

“Our children in this generation are faced with new and unique and novel challenges that we’re still trying to figure out how best to deal with,” said state Rep. Sean Lynn who sponsored the legislation. “This bill gives us an opportunity to look out for, and using the parlance of the bill, take care of children who are involved in trauma-related incidents.”

The law carves out exceptions to the Victim’s Bill of Rights, which normally would bar names of those involved in a traumatic event from being shared.

Police or emergency care providers won’t provide details of the incident to the school, but will send an email to school leaders saying that a student was present at the scene of a traumatic event.

“For privacy concerns, it would essentially be five words that are going to be critical in that email: ‘Take Care Delaware’ and if I were the student, ‘Patrick Williams,’ that’s it,” said Smyrna School District Superintendent Patrick Williams. “That will let the school district, and the school and the teacher know that I had some kind of episode the night before.”

Teachers and other school leaders won’t ask the student about the trauma, but will watch how they behave and interact with others at school. Williams called it mindful observation.

“I may not need overt intervention, but the teachers, the principals and all educators who know me and work with me that day will keep an eye open in the event that I need additional support,” he said. “We do not engage the student on any level with what happened. We are simply there providing support as an educator and a little extra TLC if it’s required.”

The program will get a yearlong trial starting this September at Smyrna’s eight schools that border along the New Castle County and Kent County lines. Williams said his district will provide feedback before the program is rolled out statewide next year.

In 2018, Carney signed an executive order making Delaware a “trauma-informed state.” That designation called on state agencies to develop strategic plans to take into account traumas that clients may have faced in life. State workers are also trained to identify someone who has suffered trauma, and how to respond.

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