Wisconsin school safety program launches, mental health focus

The Wisconsin Department of Justice on Thursday, June 16 announced its Office of School Safety (OSS) has begun training 12 Critical Incident Response Teams (CIRTs) around the state.

CIRTs are designed to provide all Wisconsin K-12 public, private, charter and tribal schools with access to a regionally based team to support them if a critical incident ever occurs at their school.

"We must take a comprehensive approach to school safety," Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a news release. "By creating regional Critical Incident Response Teams for schools across Wisconsin, our Office of School Safety and the partners participating in this program will ensure that resources and support are available if a critical incident takes place at any Wisconsin school."

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OSS considers a school-related critical incident to be: "A sudden and unexpected incident or sequence of events which can cause trauma within a school community that may overwhelm the normal coping mechanisms of the school."

School crises may be a large-scale incident, or a smaller-scale incident that may be more individualized and affect a small group of people. Examples of critical incidents in schools include threats or acts of violence, natural disasters, serious injuries to students or staff, suicide, weather-related disasters, community turmoil, intruders, an Amber Alert and hate crimes, the DOJ said.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

The mission of the CIRT program is to minimize the psychological impact of a school critical incident; provide resources to help stabilize the school community; work to identify individuals that may require long-term mental health services after a critical incident occurs; and offer support to school administrators and educators. Wisconsin is the first state to implement regionally based CIRTs on a statewide basis.

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Each of Wisconsin’s 12 regional CIRTs is made up of volunteers who are part of a multi-disciplinary team. These teams include law enforcement officers, school administrators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, teachers, school safety experts, and representatives from other related professions.

Full implementation of the regional CIRT program is projected for this fall.