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Our view: Give kids help on all fronts

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Eisenhower High School students in Decatur display hash tags related to the National School Walkout while demonstrating on March 14. Students around the country walked out of classes last week to call attention to gun laws on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

If the best defense is a good offense, then everyone — armed and unarmed — should work together to ensure school safety.

Last week, a suburban Chicago legislator proposed a plan to give extra money to schools that replace armed security officers with unarmed social workers and behavior therapists, according to a story by The Associated Press. State Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch of Hillside said he proposed the plan after hearing from advocates who argue that investing in mental health resources is the best way of treating the epidemic of violence.

That is an about-face from what many school districts do: pay for armed police, known as school resource officers, to protect the children in their care.

Welch's idea would allow schools to apply for an optional grant if they re-allocate money for school resource officers to mental health services. But SROs and mental health experts can — and should — work in tandem.

It shouldn't be one or the other.

In the 19 years since the Columbine high school massacre, America has endured more than its fair share of school shootings. In the wake of the recent Parkland, Fla., shooting, the AP said 200 bills or resolutions have been introduced in 39 states regarding school safety. Thirty-four bills in 19 states address regulations and training for school resource officers.

While there's no official count on how many school resource officers are employed in Illinois, AP estimated the number at around 500. Think of what we could do with that many mental health experts?

Counselors are trained to work with children and to look for various signs of distress, offering help before a situation gets out of control. They recognize that not every child who is having trouble will end up bringing a gun to school.

Can police do that? Of course; they do it every day, regardless of where they're assigned. But having a mix of trained mental health workers to defuse situations, as well as having police available as mentors and as a visible presence, likely would be the strongest plan.

For those of us who grew up with a "pull up your own bootstraps" mentality from parents in the Greatest Generation, it's sometimes hard to accept or understand why today's young people seem to have so many problems, and why they cannot handle situations on their own. But the world has changed and youngsters are faced with a lot of issues their parents and grandparents did not have. As a result, they are more apt to act out, or act against themselves, than other generations.

The trained counselors and caring SROs know that. They know what to look for, how to offer guidance, alternate behaviors or just a listening ear or high five to those who need it.

To help our kids, we shouldn't exclude or include a particular group of adults. Instead, we should work together to make sure the kids have all the help they need.

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