U.S. Senator Al Franken (D. MN) recently visited school officials in Eagan, MN to discusses school safety in wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CT.  Franken spent Monday, January 7th with Dakota Hills Middle School Principal Trevor Johnson in exploring the school's safety precautions.  After examining the school, Franken addressed local reporters and had this to say:


Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., questions Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during her testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday July 15, 2009, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
"One of the things we need to do better is identifying mental health issues earlier in a child's life," Franken said. - Minnesota Public Radio News, 1/7/13
Franken is calling for more mental health workers in public schools to help detect mental illness in children as a way to prevent more tragedies like Sandy Hook from occurring again:


“You [need to] catch this kind of mental illness early, treat it, so it doesn’t grow into something where you have somebody who becomes a shooter,” he said. - Lakeville Patch, 1/8/13
Franken believes that if more schools are equipped with more mental health experts, they can help spot disturbing mental illness in a child early on:


With more mental health professionals in schools, he said, there's a better chance of stopping "someone who becomes a shooter, in a way that's happened in so many of these shootings." - Star Tribune, 1/8/13
Adam Lanza, the disturbed 20 year old who shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and had sever emotional problems.  The symptoms of Asperger's syndrome involve having problems with social interaction, a hard time enjoying achievements with others, issues with eye contact, posture, gestures and sometimes characterized as “social awkwardness.”  Asperger's is also considered a mild form of Autism.  Lanza was spotted a few weeks before the shooting trying to set himself on fire:


We recently told you that Adam had been burning himself to try to be able to “feel something.” Richard Novia. the head of security at the Newtown school district remembers having to have extra supervision around Adam.

“He was very withdrawn and meek,” Richard told the WSJ. “[Adam] was one of those freshmen coming in very much in need of watching,” however, “At that point in his life, he posed no threat to anyone else. We were worried about him being the victim or that he could hurt himself.” - Chloe Melas, Hollywood Life, 12/18/12

Lanza's Asperger's syndrome was not enough to cause him to go on a shooting rampage:


Authorities are wrestling to understand what drove Adam Lanza to commit the unthinkable massacre of 20 children and their guardians. While details of his mental state are still unclear, many have said that Lanza may have suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia or a disorder like Asperger's. But here's the problem: these diagnoses are total speculation.

There is no evidence linking Asperger's to violent behavior, said Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services at Autism Speaks. Those diagnosed with Asperger's often have trouble with social cues and communication. And while some have trouble controlling aggressive thoughts and behavior, "there's a big difference between aggression and planned violence," Bell said.

"Autism did not cause this horrific event," he said. "There are a lot of things that need to be factored into this -- his age, where he grew up, the family challenges he faced in recent years, his access to guns. Trying to make it seem like autism or Asperger's contributed to this is harmful and irresponsible." - PBS News Hour, 12/18/12

Dr. Ken Duckworth, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, believes that it's dangerous to immediately jump to psychiatric diagnosis to figure out Lanza's motivation:
"We don't know anything about his condition," Duckworth said. "It's really important to respect the fact that we don't have any facts. And the idea that a neighbor thought he had something isn't what I'm looking for. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, it doesn't cut it for me. I don't find that to be particularly compelling."

The shooting comes at a time when states have cut a combined $1.8 billion from their budgets in the last three years and eliminated 4,000 inpatient hospital beds in the last five, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. And while the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends screening all teenagers for major depression, most systems aren't properly set up for that, Duckworth said. - PBS News Hour, 12/18/12

Franken is a member of the Senate Education Committee and has vowed to push for federal funding to boost the number of school counselors, social workers and psychologists.  Of course it didn't help that Lanza's mother had a big gun collection that consisted a semiautomatic rifle used by our military:


Ms. Lanza’s fascination with guns became an important focus of attention on Saturday as investigators tried to determine what caused Mr. Lanza to carry out one of the worst massacres in the nation’s history.

Investigators have linked Ms. Lanza to five weapons: two powerful handguns, two traditional hunting rifles and a semiautomatic rifle that is similar to weapons used by troops in Afghanistan. Her son took the two handguns and the semiautomatic rifle to the school. Law enforcement officials said they believed the guns were acquired legally and were registered. - New York Times, 12/15/12  

Franken is also strongly in favor of banning high-capacity assault weapons:
Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said Friday that he supports a ban on the sale of high-capacity assault weapons. Franken said today that it was reasonable to look at banning what he called “essentially military weapons.”

“I don’t think there’s any reason to have 30 rounds in a gun clip,” Franken said. “You’ll remember that the shooter in Tucson was stopped when he went to change clips.”

Saturday, Franken met with state officials, mental health advocates and members of law enforcement and discussed a partnership between the state’s mental health and criminal justice systems.

“In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, we heard a lot of people talk about mental health," he said Saturday, according to Minnesota Public Radio. "But in some ways, I felt it was unfortunately just kind of a talking point.” - Lakeville Patch, 1/8/13

Ron Honberg, policy and legal affairs at NAMI, stated that NAMI's goal is to help people not be reluctant about revealing the nature of their mental disorder or illness:

People often fear that exposing their illness could affect employment or lead to social rejection or insensitive comments, Honberg said.

It can also be a barrier to seeking treatment at a time when we need better access to mental health care.

And access, Honberg added, means more than just health insurance and medication, but also help with employment, housing and other quality-of-life issues:

"Pumping someone with medication isn't going to do the trick," Honberg said. "We have to give people reasons to live, help with employment and help developing meaningful social relationships." - PBS News Hour, 12/18/12

Franken's call to get more mental health professionals in schools could help children open up about their mental health issues to trusting adults who could help them cope with their diseases and illnesses:
"We are not going to prevent every incident in the United States," Franken said. "One of the things that we need to do better is identify mental health issues earlier in a child's life. - Star Tribune, 1/8/12
Franken understands that the lack of funding for education is a prime reasons why public schools lack the adequate number of psychologists and counselors in schools.  These types of education cuts have really hit Minnesota badly:
According to the past president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association, Chris Otto, the ratio of counselors to students in Minnesota is one of the worst in the nation. On average there are more than 750 students per counselor.

"We really need people in the schools that have the daily contact with students and with parents and can really have the ongoing interaction to support them," Otto said.

Otto hopes Minnesota lawmakers consider boosting education funding so more mental health workers can be placed in the state's schools. - Minnesota Public Radio News, 1/8/13

I applaud Senator Franken for addressing both problems that led to the Sandy Hook school shooting.  Of course I support gun control and banning assault weapons but Franken also said something I have always believed was a big part of the problem here.  Education funding is always on the chopping block and when you cut the essential services needed for our public schools, we face dire consequences.  Franken is on the right track here with solving this problem.  Troubled and disturbed children with mental illnesses are too afraid to openly admit they have problems and they need trust worthy adults they can go to for help.  With the right type of guidance and more access to professional help, we can at least decrease the number of tragedies like Sandy Hook from occurring.  Franken's call for more mental health professionals in public schools is one of several reasons why we need to assure his re-election victory.  Help Al keep fighting for common sense solutions to our problems and restoring education funding.  Donate to his 2014 campaign today:

Originally posted to pdc on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 04:36 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Twin Cities Kossacks.

Your Email has been sent.