As a father and grandfather with two school-aged grandchildren, I want to do everything I can to help ensure schools are as safe as possible. I understand firsthand the concerns of family members of school-aged children, and my heart breaks when I think about those who have witnessed violence in their schools.

East Tennesseans have a lot of good ideas about the changes that need to be made to ensure school safety. In the last several months, I’ve held roundtables, town halls and forums to hear from school administrators, school safety officials, school principals, superintendents, teachers and public health leaders about the challenges and potential solutions they see in in their communities.

In addition, every time I visit a school, I try to hold open forums with students there, and I’ve heard a lot of good questions and ideas in those settings. While these weren’t my first meetings with constituent stakeholders on school safety and they won’t be my last, I am already using the feedback shared during these discussions to take action.

One of the most troubling things I learned during my discussions on school safety was the lack of mental health resources and beds for children in East Tennessee. Children and adolescents experiencing mental health emergencies can be forced to wait three to five days just to get a bed for treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide among young people has nearly tripled since the 1940s. Tragically, CDC data shows that suicide is the third leading cause of death for children and adolescents aged 10 through 24, resulting in roughly 4,600 deaths each year.

In an effort to address these troubling statistics, this week I introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 6498, the Youth Mental Services Act, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). This bill takes an existing grant program authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act and allows school districts to use these funds to implement community-based mental health services for students. The bill also allows states to use their funds to improve the mental health services already available to students. Under this legislation, states would be able to use these funds to do any of the following: identify and disseminate best practices for mental health first aid; assist in the establishment or implementation of emergency planning, which may include emergency response teams to address emergencies in schools; establish or identify agreements with local health agencies to improve coordination of services; and expand telehealth services.

We need to continue having the conversation on how to make schools safer. I believe the Youth Mental Health Services Act can address one significant problem in our schools, and I am hopeful it will provide much-needed resources to help children thrive and achieve academic success.

My door is always open to East Tennesseans and I encourage constituents to continue reaching out to my office to share their views on this important issue with me. Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

The writer, a retired physician and a former mayor of Johnson City, represents the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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