The Ada Board of Education moved forward Monday with plans for a program to help students who have experienced trauma at home.

Voting 4-0, the school board approved an agreement with the Ada Police Department concerning the new Handle With Care program. Board member Doug Haney was absent.

Handle With Care is designed to support children who have been identified at the scene of a traumatic event, such as a fire or an incident of domestic violence, according to information provided by the school district. Police are trained to identify any children at the scene and contact Central Dispatch.

The dispatcher then sends an email containing the child’s name and the phrase “Handle With Care,” but no other details, to the district’s designated contact person. Once district officials have read the email, they will relay the same message to the principal and counselor at the child’s school.

“That’s the only message they’ll get,” said Superintendent Mike Anderson. “They’ll just know that Mike Anderson experienced some trauma and it’s time to give him some room. An extra hug.

“If he’s tired, been up all night because of whatever happened at home and he’s got a spelling test that day, maybe that spelling test isn’t quite as important as it usually is. Maybe we could delay that. Or we can provide him with an opportunity to go to the office and rest a little bit.”

The district will educate teachers and other staffers about the impact of trauma on learning and show them ways to reduce the impact on students. Possible interventions could include:

• Sending students to the office to rest if the child is having trouble staying awake or focusing.

• Reteaching lessons.

• Postponing testing.

• Offering small group counseling by school counselors.

• Excusing homework and referring students to counseling, social services or advocacy programs.

Anderson said if the student needs additional services, the district will call in people to provide those services. He added that teachers will not be responsible for seeking additional details about what happened to the student.

“That’s not their job,” he said. “They shouldn’t ask questions as to what happened last night at home. And so, if we see real problems — if real trauma exists that affects their daily life — then we’ll bring in the proper services.”

Anderson said Tuesday that the Handle With Care program is part of a bigger initiative designed to make schools safer and more secure. Other elements of the initiative include setting up a task force to address behavioral health issues and hiring a school resource officer.

In other business, the school board:

• Approved the district’s estimate of needs for the coming fiscal year. The estimate of needs — which is not the same thing as the district’s operating budget — is an itemized statement of estimated expenses and probable income from all sources, including ad valorem taxes.

The estimate of needs for 2019-20 is approximately $23.56 million.

• Approved a $21.77 million operating budget for FY 2019-20.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.

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