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Rapid City and Douglas school districts to launch 'Handle with Care' program this fall
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Rapid City and Douglas school districts to launch 'Handle with Care' program this fall

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Rapid City Area and Douglas school district students who experience traumatic events will be handled with care this year.

The school districts, along with Rapid City Police Department and Pennington County Sheriff's Office, are launching the "Handle with Care" program to support children facing various traumas.

Jamie Kirsch, of the Rapid City Police Department, said no federal, state of local funds are being used to support the initiative.

"It's really just me and Sarah (Zimmerman) volunteering our time to bring forth this amazing initiative to the community," Kirsch said.

Zimmerman, the Rapid City Area School District's emotional and social education coordinator, first learned about the program during a conference and wanted to implement what she had learned back home.

"From the school district's perspective, we won't know if there's a fire or accident of that type of thing. Our staff will have the awareness that something has happened," Zimmerman said. "It just depends on what they see with that student at school. If they are falling asleep, they will not be getting in trouble for falling asleep. They might say, 'hey why don't we go see the nurse and take a rest'. If the student is having trouble in class and being very emotional, like crying of being tearful, the teacher might suggest that they go see the counselor. If the student is in school, and they're in class and learning and there's no out of the ordinary behavior they'll just stay in class. Through working with our social workers and counselors, they can also be referred to school- or community-based counseling if needed, but that would always be in conjunction with a parent or guardian."

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From the law enforcement side, Lt. Tim Doyle with the Rapid City Police Department said officers have experience determining what is a traumatic event, which can range from domestic violence occurring in the home to a family member being arrested to a house fire.

"Our officers see a lot, so they get to learn what families go through and what kids go through," Doyle explained. "Anything that is a major disruption to this child's daily routine is what they'll be looking for. This is not really a response to trauma. This is making sure that we're not adding to the trauma they've already experienced at school."

For example, Doyle said a student may be falling asleep in class because they were up all night with something that also prompted a police response.

"So the teacher just knows that the kid went through something," Doyle said. "They're not going to scold the kid, the kid isn't going to get in trouble. That's really the main idea behind this. There are so many possibilities on what it could be."

Kirsch said all teachers and law enforcement officers have undergone training on adverse childhood experiences, noting that states such as West Virginia and Virginia have issued mandates that require law enforcement and school districts to participate in the Handle with Care program.

"This is not something we've made up, this has been done in other places," Kirsch said.

Doyle said school districts and law enforcement agencies involved have also been prepping the program for its launch since last March.

"We've been doing the training and adding notifications kind of as practice since March and now it's just going live," Doyle said.

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