Parkland Father continues fight for better mental health services in Florida schools

Parents who lost their children in the Parkland Shooting are continuing their push to make Florida schools safer and this year they’re pursuing legislation that would increase mental health reporting and awareness in schools.

Last year the state appropriated $120 million to schools for mental health services.

This year legislation being pushed by families of Parkland victims would help ensure parents know what services are available.

On February 14th of 2018, Tony Montalto got the news every parent fears.

His daughter Gina was killed along with 16 other students and staff at the hands of a school shooter.

“That day, my kind compassionate, bright and bubbly 14-year-old daughter was shot in the hallway outside her classroom,” said Montalto, testifying before the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee Thursday morning.

Tony has been a passionate advocate for improving school safety ever since the shooting, in hopes of ensuring tragedy like the one that took his daughters life would never happen again.

This year he’s promoting legislation that would ensure the resources that are available are actually used.

“HB 899 looks at the other individuals in a student’s household and ensures they’re notified about other behavioral services which they may qualify,” Montalto told the committee.

The legislation passed its first committee with unanimous support.

Afterward, we spoke with Tony one on one.

He said the problem currently, is that while students are made aware of the services their schools provide, parents are often unaware.

“We need to look not just at our students that are struggling, but look at their environment and try to improve that as much as possible,” said Montalto.

Tony said not only would parents and guardians be made aware of services available for their students, but they would also be linked up with other services available in the community.

“You know, let’s suppose we see a child doing poorly in school and they bring their family in and it looks like the home life has problems because the parent or guardian is an alcoholic. Well, why not tell them about services they’re eligible for out in the community so that they can help themselves as well,” said Montalto.

We reached out to DCPS and asked whether they ensured parents were informed of mental health services for their students.

We were told the information is publicly available.

“Full Service Schools information is publicized in various ways, including by the individual schools, Duval County Public Schools Behavioral Health Facebook page, Parent Academy, various community and student leadership organizations,” said DCPS spokesperson Sonya Duke-Bolden in an emailed statement.

The legislation also would require charter schools to meet the mental health reporting requirements already imposed on public schools.

It also requires the Department of Education the share Baker Act data with the Department of Children and families and set timeframes for when a student must receive mental health treatment after being referred.

Tony told us this legislation isn’t the end of his fight to improve safety, he believes its passage would be another step in the right direction.