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LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn and Supervisor Kathryn Barger held a press conference on Monday, August 12, to explain how the START (School Threat Assessment Response Team) Program is already working to intervene with threats to schools, how it has been expanded, and urge parents, teachers, and students to reach out directly to report any and all possible threats. LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn speaks to the media during the press conference. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

In the wake of several high-profile mass shootings, a decade-old program designed to red-flag potential school threats has been quadrupled in size going into the 2019-20 school year, two Los Angeles County supervisors announced Monday, Aug. 12.

The START (School Threat Assessment Response Team) has been in place for 10 years, established under the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to provide teachers, parents and students with a response to perceived threats. START’s primary focus is prevention and intervention.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger announced Monday in front of Torrance High School that the program has been increased from 10 staff members to 42 as schools prepare to open this month. The motion to expand was unanimously approved by the board in July 2018 but that expanded implementation takes place this fall.

In the wake of several high-profile mass shootings, a decade-old program designed to red-flag potential school threats has been quadrupled in size going into the 2019-20 school year, two Los Angeles County supervisors announced Monday, Aug. 12.

The START (School Threat Assessment Response Team) has been in place for 10 years, established under the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to provide teachers, parents and students with a response to perceived threats. START’s primary focus is prevention and intervention.

Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger announced Monday in front of Torrance High School that the program has been increased from 10 staff members to 42 as schools prepare to open this month. The motion to expand was unanimously approved by the board in July 2018 but that expanded implementation takes place this fall.

“Who can bear to wake up to hear about another mass shooting,” Hahn said, “particularly at a school? We have to do whatever we can to prevent the next mass shooting.”

Hahn’s district includes the South Bay and Long Beach.

The 10-member team simply was not enough to handle the sometimes dozens of weekly calls, prompting the county to begin plans for the expansion last summer. That expansion plan is now complete and ready to be implemented this school year.

“We want our children to be carefree but we live in different times,” said Barger, who represents the northeastern portion of the county.

Along with the usual back-to-school angst over new teachers and classrooms, Hahn said, students and parents now must also deal with the potential of school violence amid recent images of mass shootings.

Too often, she said, the “red flags” of troubling behavior are seen only in retrospect.

The START Program provides direct support to schools throughout the county. Included are training sessions to spot the characteristics and warning signs of a potential threat. Response teams include law enforcement and mental health professionals.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Deryl Walker said after the news conference that calls for help are handled discreetly.

“I tell people I’d rather err on the side of caution than turn on the television and see that some horrific incident has taken place,” Barger said. “This is a unit that can and will make a difference.”

Both supervisors also called for more pressure to be put on Congress to pass gun legislation.

Dr. Jonathon Sherin, director of the County department of Mental Health, said students who appear to be suffering from loneliness can be a cause for concern.

“I call it the ‘other’ LOL: The Lethality of Loneliness,” he said. “The stakes are way too high. We have to err on the side of safety. … Kids and peers have a better sense of this than anybody. This is an all-in effort.”

“There is nothing more important than the safety of our children,” said Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo.

Since it began in 2009, the START program has received more than 12,000 referrals. Responses included psychiatric evaluations and providing links to mental health and supportive programs.

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