Justin’s Gift offers Dist. 11 mental health crisis training for staff

Justin’s Gift, an organization dedicated to providing a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and all youth, has given Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 free mental health crisis response training for 20 staff members.

“This is not an issue about being gay or lesbian; this is an issue about being safe in your school and making sure that staff members are equipped and trained to be able to deal with whatever issue may come forward,” said Jefferson Fietek, who presented the gift to the Anoka-Hennepin School Board with Tammy Aaberg during the communications portion of the meeting March 24.

Justin’s Gift wants to send 20 staff members of the district’s choosing to a day-long training through the Barbara Schneider Foundation.

Schneider, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was shot and killed by police in 2000.

As a result of her death, the Barbara Schneider Foundation was formed to train individuals how to respond to mental health crises, like the one Schneider had the day she died.

“Our hopes are that from her tragedy and the tragedies that started our organization … something incredibly positive can come out of this,” Fietek said.

As a theater teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, Fietek said he’s seen the district sometimes “struggle” to figure out how to handle children who have mental health issues.

“We care a lot about social and mental well-being,” Aaberg said of Justin’s Gift, formed after her 15-year-old son committed suicide in 2010. The training could be “very useful and very lifesaving,” she said, adding that though the district can select which 20 educators participate in training, she hopes at least one staff member goes from each of the middle and high schools.

Many Anoka County law enforcement and mental health professionals have participated in the training to date.

“We’re really excited that District 11 will not have any financial burden so [it] will be able to do this very detailed in-service training,” Fietek said. “We’re hoping that this is just the beginning.”

After the meeting, School Board Chairman Tom Heidemann passed along information about the training to administrators for review, to see how it aligns with existing mental health training in the district, he said. “I thought it looked very, very positive.”

Within the next two or three weeks, the district hopes to respond to Justin’s Gift, Heidemann said.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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