WINCHESTER — If a traumatic event requires a Winchester police officer to enter a home where a Winchester Public Schools student lives, the officer can choose to notify school administrators with the child’s name and the phrase “Handle With Care.”
This “heads up” notification launched a couple of months ago.
“We’ve noticed that a lot of kids experience a lot of trauma at a young age,” Winchester Police Department Deputy Chief Kelly Rice said.
When a “Handle With Care” notice goes out, it is initially sent to three school administrators: Director of Student Services Judy McKiernan, Director of Elementary Instruction Jake Boula and Director of Secondary Education Brian Wray. They determine what other school administrators or counselors to notify, and those officials may then notify a teacher or other staff.
The parent or child does not have to give consent for a police officer to tell the school division the affected child’s name with the alert. No further information about the incident with police is divulged to the school division.
“We just saw our part as being that a lot of times we’re in these situations first and we know that these children have been exposed to some pretty bad situations and then what as law enforcement can we legally do to make sure that they’re receiving the care,” Rice said.
A situation where police may send a “Handle With Care” message to school administrators could involve a domestic violence incident a child has witnessed, she said.
“So these kids are going to school and then the next thing you know they’re in the classroom becoming disruptive or the opposite, very withdrawn,” Rice said.
“Handle With Care” helps teachers and administrators working with the possibly traumatized student, she said.
WPS teachers have received training on trauma-informed care, which explains the neuroscience that goes on in a child’s brain who has experienced trauma, McKiernan said.
“When that child is coming to you after a domestic, after a raid, or whatever might have happened, they’re operating on the reptilian brain,” McKiernan said. “They’re operating way down at their basic instincts.”
Teachers are told to not ask “Handle With Care” students any questions about their encounter with police.
“Because then what you’ve done is continued the trauma,” McKiernan said.
McKiernan and Rice heard about “Handle With Care” from various conferences they attended separately. The program is used in all public schools in West Virginia, McKiernan said.
“This is something that doesn’t cost us any money and is something that is desperately needed,” Rice said.