Torrance – Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger held a press conference with officials at Torrance High School Monday to mark the expansion of a school violence prevention program, in the wake of recent mass shootings and in time for the back-to-school season.
The press conference was designed to get word to parents and teachers about how to use the expanded important program.
The School Threat Assessment Response Team is a team of county mental health professionals who partner with local law enforcement to respond to calls about possible threats against schools across the county. The aim is to intervene before a threat of school violence becomes a reality.
“We cannot afford to miss a red flag,” Hahn said. “I have no doubt that START has already saved lives and with this expansion, the team is more capable than ever to respond to potential threats and prevent acts of school violence.”
“Preventing campus violence through early identification and intervention is really key,” Barger said. “Since START was created a decade ago, it has made immense progress to help protect our students and provide them with the mental health resources they need.”
Teachers, school administrators, school counselors, fellow students or parents can call START’s 24/7 phone line at 800-854-7771 with information about a possible threat or concerning behavior.
START’s mental health professionals can immediately respond to assess the authenticity of the threat, conduct a school visit, visit the student’s home, involve law enforcement if necessary, and connect the student with long-term mental health treatment in order to resolve any problem.
For years, the START team has been relatively small. Until recently, they were made up of 10 staff. However, in recent years the team has received a high volume of calls and the number of calls surge following a mass shooting. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the START team responded to 63 referrals of threats per week.
In response, Hahn and Barger proposed expanding the START team. In time for the back-to-school season, the START team has now expanded to 42 members who can respond to threats to any school.
With the expanded team, START is conducting training for teachers, counselors and law enforcement groups to encourage situational awareness and how to spot concerning behavior.
Torrance High School, the site of Monday’s press conference, has already received the START training and Torrance Unified School District officials spoke to the effectiveness of this program.
“Torrance Unified takes a proactive approach to student support programs,” said TUSD Board President Don Lee. “I would like to commend the tireless efforts of our District administrators, teachers, counselors, and staff, who invest their time ensure our students receive the supports they need to be successful in school and life. The efforts of Supervisor Hahn and the Board of Supervisors, along with the Department of Mental Health in increasing these critical resources will greatly help TUSD continue to strengthen the systems of support we provide our students.”
“Our priority as educators is to ensure all children have the safe learning environments they deserve,” said Dr. Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education. “While schools remain among the safest places in our communities, START gives us a vital tool for preventing acts of targeted violence that sadly are on the rise around the nation.”
LACOE provides ongoing training for the region’s 80 K-12 districts on the START program. It is integrated into the Office’s comprehensive safe schools training provided through conferences and workshops, which reach administrators, teachers, counselors, campus security personnel, school resource officers and other school staff countywide.
For more information about the START program, visit https://dmh.lacounty.gov/START/.