BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (June 6) – Teachers and law enforcement officers in Weakley County have a rebooted a means of working together for the betterment of a potentially traumatized child’s time in the classroom. Thanks to the addition of the United Way of West Tennessee’s Handle with Care (HWC) online portal, educators will receive alerts when a child’s family has had an encounter with an officer. Thereby, proponents of the model attest, setting in motion the appropriate response to possible negative behaviors at school.
At a gathering of representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, local police departments, Weakley County 911 Communication, Schools and Mayor’s Office, United Way of West Tennessee President and CEO Matt Marshall offered a dedicated online portal through which law enforcement could communicate to schools.
The process is simple, explained Marshall. Children who witnessed or were affected by an interaction with law enforcement would be identified inside the online application and the school where the child is enrolled would receive a message to “Handle with Care.” No other details would be included, noted Marshall, but that message can help ensure that schools are prepared for reactions from children that range from truancy to unusual outbursts, etc.
With the alerts, teachers can then be mindful and incorporate interventions to mitigate the negative impact of trauma for identified students, including sending students to the school nurse to rest; re-teaching lessons; postponing testing; small group counseling by school counselors; and referrals to counseling, social service or advocacy programs.
At the meeting, Marshall referenced that educators and law enforcement officers are now conversant in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact trauma can have on a child’s ability to learn, form relationships and function appropriately in a classroom. Teachers are now trained to first consider what happened that might make a student sleep, act out, or be defiant in the classroom before assigning punishment.
The meeting was facilitated by County Mayor Jake Bynum who also serves as the Weakley County United Way Board Chair. Marshall approached Bynum in that role after a successful United Way-facilitated launch of HWC in Madison County.
Bynum soon learned from Weakley County Schools Safe Schools Coordinator Lorna Benson that Handle with Care had previously been introduced to the area, modeled on the HWC initiative piloted at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston, WV, in 2013. However, Benson noted, due to COVID, attention had been diverted. During the meeting she provided an overview of what the process had been but underscored she was in favor of whatever approach would be most effective, declaring, “I just want us to get this rebooted.”
After examining the previous system and the new option funded by United Way of West Tennessee with training from the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, all agreed to move to the United Way-offered dedicated portal.
Training for law enforcement will take place on July 14.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation website describes “Handle with Care” as a means of providing a school or childcare agency with a “heads up” when a child has been identified at the scene of a traumatic event. It states, “It could be a meth lab explosion, a domestic violence situation, a shooting in the neighborhood, witnessing a malicious wounding, a drug raid at the home, etc. Police are trained to identify children at the scene, find out where they go to school or daycare and send the school/agency a confidential email or fax that simply says … ‘Handle Johnny with care.’ That’s it. No other details.”