Wyo. police, school district unveil program to help children who witness traumatic events

Under the program, an officer would fill out a CASS card if police encountered a child in a traumatic situation and give it to the child's school so administrators could then be on the lookout for any behavioral issues that may arise from the incident the child witnessed


By Seth Klamann
Casper Star Tribune

NATRONA COUNTY, Wyo. — Teachers and administrators at Natrona County schools will have a “heightened awareness” of students who’ve witnessed traumatic events at home as part of a new collaborative effort between the school district and the Casper Police Department.

Officials from the City Council, the police department and the Natrona County School District unveiled the effort at a press conference Wednesday morning. The program is called CASS — Caring About Student Success — and came from an idea Councilman Jesse Morgan brought forward after he attended a national meeting of elected officials last year.

Under the program, an officer would fill out a CASS card if police encountered a child in a traumatic situation — such as a kid who witnessed domestic abuse. The officer would then pass that card, which contains just the name of the child and the child’s school, to the police department’s records office, which would then call the district.

Tom Ernst, the district’s safety point person, or Tanya Southerland, the district’s spokeswoman, can then call the child’s school and tell the principal the student’s name and the word “CASS,” Southerland said after the press conference. The principal could then be on the lookout for any behavioral issues that may arise from the incident the child witnessed.

Normally, those issues may result in discipline by the school, but under CASS, the student would instead receive extra support from the school should something happen during class.

Walt Wilcox, one of the district’s associate superintendents, said CASS wouldn’t call for any immediate, direct intervention; administrators and applicable teachers would just have “heightened awareness” of the student’s needs.

Mike Jennings, the district’s executive director for human services, told the Star-Tribune that select few people would know about a child’s CASS-related incident. If the student is in grade school, his or her primary teacher would be informed, as well as the principal. But if it involves a high schooler who bounces from classroom to classroom all day, the principal would likely be the only person at the school informed.

Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters, who presented the program Wednesday morning, said the department wanted to avoid innocent children being re-victimized.

Southerland said staff were trained in the program last week and that the district has already had “a couple” CASS calls since then.

The program is the latest collaboration effort between the school district and police department. In spring 2017, the district announced it was giving all police officers access to school buildings. Then, after the deadly shooting at a Florida high school in February, the district unveiled a plan to bring more resource officers into Casper schools.

As of the end of the 2017-18 school year, there were just two school resource officers for the entire district, which has more than 30 buildings and roughly 13,000 students. But the district announced it would bring in two more officers to start this year, with the plan of two more entering schools by June 2019. The goal is to have 10 total officers by the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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