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Billings Public Schools safety levy would pay for gang prevention

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Posted at 9:08 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 23:16:04-05

The upcoming Billings school safety mill levy would provide gang prevention education, according to supporters

If passed, Billings School District 2 would implement safety measures, including lessons in the classrooms that would keep kids from dropping out.

"And actually 81% of kids that dropped from school, they have done so because they don't feel that there are opportunities that connect their lives through the real world," said Dr. Erwin Garcia, Billings School District 2 superintendent.

Garcia said keeping kids in school is one of the key ways to keep them out of gangs.

A good portion of the $5 million levies, close to $2.5 million each in the elementary and high school districts, will emphasize basics such as reading.

Garcia said kids who drop out are three times more likely to be imprisoned.

"Most of the kids that we see in our community that could be vulnerable for gangs are students that unfortunately have dropped out from school," Garcia said.

Mental health specialists, counselors, gang prevention specialists, and more school resource officers are also part of the proposal.

“And we need specialized supports to enhance the footprint of the caring adult in the building," Garcia said.

Billings Public Schools had considered using the Gang Resistance Education and Training, known as the G.R.E.A.T. program, but that will no longer be part of the proposal.

The company that runs that program says it is not doing training at this time, but it also promotes the idea of building relationships with officers and other school personnel who may inform the kids about avoiding gangs.

"Make them more resilient and being able to make good choices,” said Meena Harris, G.R.E.A.T. program director. “And work through ways of how to say no if they need to say no."

Harris oversees the program through the Institute for Governmental Research,and she says this approach has worked since the 1990s.

“One more component to help combat the violence,” Harris said. “Community violence and the gun violence."

The school district also has ways to deal with potential violence.

"Kids learn how to respect kids learn how to be empathetic, how to have positive conversations and how to refrain from bullying or teasing," Garcia said.