San Diego Unified adopts resolution calling for comprehensive plan for reducing youth violence

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling for a comprehensive plan for reducing violence, including expanded mental health screenings and support for renewing a federal ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles classified as assault weapons.

The 4-1 vote came hours after city leaders, mental health experts and law enforcement officials endorsed the resolution, introduced by board President John Lee Evans and Trustee Marne Foster and crafted in response to recent mass shootings. The resolution stated that in addition to expanded mental health services and controls on assault weapons and large ammunition clip sales, the district would partner with the San Diego Psychological Association, who would donate time to train staff to identify students with "potential violent tendencies and or signs of isolation that could signal a need for intervention."

The training would initially be provided at a few high schools and later be expanded, according to Evans.

"To make it very clear, there is not a method to profile who can or who is going to be a violent offender -- the science has not come that far," said Evans, who is also a psychologist. "But the fact of the matter is when we see a suffering from any type of mental or emotional problem, we need to reach out to them and help them."

District staffers were previously directed to review school safety plans and were now looking toward external measures, Evans said.

Evans said San Diego could set the standard for the nation and could not wait for the federal government to come through with a program.

Trustee Scott Barnett, who cast the dissenting vote, said that although he was in favor of increased mental health outreach, he could not support a ban on so-called assault weapons. He said handguns, semiautomatic handguns and shotguns had also been used in school shootings.

"If I believed the ban on this particular type of weapon -- or any weapon -- would actually make my kids safer, or the 130,000 kids in this district, then I would support it," Barnett said. "But I don't believe it will, and I believe it diverts us from what we can do locally in our schools to make our kids safer."

According to school district police Chief Rueben Littlejohn, reports of attempted suicide, threats of suicide and mental illness rose by 46 percent during the 2012-13 school year compared to the previous year.

San Diego police are working with the district "to make sure our most precious commodity on the city of San Diego are safe and well," Chief William Lansdowne said at an earlier news conference.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner expressed optimism about the effort.

"All the psychological and mental health resources that we have are to get at the roots of the problem -- to get at young kids who are facing problems, so they grow up with a much more social view of the world and of themselves, a much more sense of who they are and the confidence they can be something without a gun in their hand," Filner said.

Councilman David Alvarez said a resolution in support of an assault weapons ban was in the works.

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