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Mental health a focus for school security

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The Georgia House Study Committee on School Security will livestream today's hearings online, starting at 10 a.m.

Among the presentations is an overview of students and mental health by Melanie Dallas, CEO of Highland Rivers. A public safety net for Northwest Georgia communities, the agency provides treatment and support for residents affected by mental disorders, intellectual disabili-ties and addictions.

Spokesman Michael Mullet said Dallas is also a licensed professional counselor with experience as a child therapist.

"Her testimony will go into neurobiology, and the adolescent and the developing brain ... youth who are disconnected and disenfranchised," Mullet said. "I think it will be a really informative presentation."

The nine-member committee chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, is tasked with looking at ways to curb violence in schools and respond quickly when it occurs.

Floyd County Reps. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, and Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, are members of the panel. Lumsden said mental health is a crucial part of the equation.

"Securing the facility is only one aspect of the problem," the retired Georgia State Patrol trooper said. "Almost all (school shooters) have had mental health issues that were known but not acted on by authorities."

The committee, he said, also wants to focus on "becoming proactive, recognizing the signs and being able to have some kind of interdiction available."

The hearings are expected to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch. A link to the livestream is posted on the Georgia House main page, house.ga.gov, under the broadcast schedule.

First up is a report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. The agency researches various types of "targeted violence" and offers help with assessment and training to law enforcement, school personnel and other entities with public safety responsibilities.

The agenda is subject to change, but lawmakers also expect to hear a presentation from the Georgia State University Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management.

Dallas is part of a contingent of experts connected with children and education, including the Georgia School Counselor Association.

The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities also is slated to present, along with someone from the U.S. Department of Education's PBIS technical assistance center for positive behavioral interventions and supports.