Lawton Public Schools enters Handle With Care agreement with law enforcement agencies

Published: May. 18, 2021 at 6:19 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - Lawton Public Schools is partnering with law enforcement agencies in southwest Oklahoma to implement the Handle With Care program for students.

The partnership is between Lawton Public Schools and the Lawton, Fort Sill and Comanche Nation Police Departments and the Comanche County Sheriff’s Office.

When an officer responds to a call which involves an LPS student, they’ll notify an LPS officer who sends a Handle With Care notification to the school.

It could be a domestic violence incident, the arrest of a family member or even a house fire, but the notification won’t tell the school what happened.

According to LPS Chief of Police David Hornbeck, it will simply say “Handle this student with care.”

“We don’t even have to approach the kid and say ‘Oh, I’m so sorry something happened to you last night.’ We do not want that,” he said. “We do not want to treat that kid any different than when he shows up any other day, but it might be a ‘Good morning, Johnny. How are you doing?’ that changes his whole attitude that day. The bus driver might hand him a sucker while he’s getting on the bus to change his whole day that day.”

He said it allows staff to be aware of what a student may be dealing with at home.

“Where we’d normally place them in in-school suspension for their behavior if they were fighting or acting out,” he said, “this allows us to understand they were traumatized and maybe channel that in a different area to get them more constructive educational grounds during the day after they’ve been traumatized. We don’t want to re-traumatize them when they come back to school.”

Officers will train counselors and teachers on how to respond to students’ behavior when they receive a Handle With Care message

“Sometimes we don’t know about it when the police are not called or EMS is not at that residence,” he said. “Of course, we’re not going to know about those times, but if we start seeing a pattern with a kid where we’re seeing police repetitively called to the home and we’re getting continuous Handle With Care notifications on that child, maybe we’ll rethink a lot of disciplinary that we’re doing with that child.”

He said they’re not naïve to the fact that crime happens in our community and children are affected by it.

“If they feel like the school is a safe place and they can come here and have a good time and not be punished because they fell asleep in class or didn’t bring their permission slip because it was something out of their control,” he said, “because they were up all night and are traumatized because mom and dad were in a fight and the police were there or whatever the situation is, we’re going to try to channel that in a different way to where we can handle Johnny differently so we can see a positive outcome in his attitude. If we see a positive outcome in his attitude, we’re going to see a positive outcome in his education.”

LPS officers who are CLEET instructors will be providing the extra mental health training required to the other agencies’ officers over the summer.

By the time school starts in August, Hornbeck said Handle With Care will be successfully implemented.

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