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State of Wisconsin to spend $1M in grant funds on Critical Incident Response Teams for schools

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RACINE — The Wisconsin Office of School Safety is spending $1 million to help schools better respond to crisis situations by developing and training 12 regional Critical Incident Response Teams.

However, school districts remain largely in the dark about how the teams will function. One Racine County school district said they had not even heard about the program until contacted by a reporter.

Trish Kilpin, director of the Office of School Safety, wrote in an email that the “goal of this project is to collectively improve the capacity and confidence of critical incident responders, ensuring that they are utilizing evidence-informed interventions to decrease the trauma symptoms that children experience after exposure to an acute traumatic stressor.”

The Office of School Safety is part of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is led by Attorney General Josh Kaul. The Critical Incident Response Teams, which are undergoing training this summer, will aim to minimize the psychological impact of a “school-related critical incident,” identify people requiring long-term mental health support and provide help to school employees, according to a DOJ statement.

Wisconsin is the first state to implement the regional teams on a statewide basis, according to the DOJ. However, the makeup of the teams still needs to be determined by the state.

Area school districts seemingly weren’t included in the planning. In an email, a spokeswoman for the Burlington Area School District said the new Critical Incident Response Team is “news to us."

She continued: "We'll have to see how they establish the teams.”

Likewise, the Racine Unified School District last week said it had not been part of planning for the new CIRT.

The 12 regional teams will cover the same areas as the 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agency regions under the state Department of Public Instruction. Racine Unified is in the CESA 1 region, which includes more than 40 districts, with schools in Milwaukee and Kenosha, among others. All other Racine County school districts are in CESA 2, which is more sprawling, including schools in Dane County and Green County.

Volunteers will staff the regional response teams, though it is unclear how many people will be on a team.

“Empowering caring volunteers who live in or near the communities impacted by the crisis will provide quick access to support in the event of an emergency,” Kilpin wrote.

The $1 million comes from a federal grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. It will be spent on summer training sessions and implementation.

The grant expires in September 2023, and OSS hopes to be “awarded stable state funding that would enable us to continue this work beyond the period of the grant,” Kilpin wrote.

Team members will attend one of four weeklong training sessions this summer. One training session occurred last week, one is currently taking place and two are in August.

The program should be up and running this fall. After that, “the critical incident responders will have opportunities for continued training, learning debriefing and support,” Kilpin wrote. “Schools that experience a critical event will contact our office and resources will be deployed.”

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