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VEGAS LOST: Pilot program hopes to put a stop to the 'school-to-prison pipeline'

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Schools are our first line of defense -- a troubled student’s first chance at getting help. Thousands of students, however, are falling through the cracks.

The prison system and the school district are interlinked. The people behind bars are tied to the hallways and classrooms they used to use.

And there's a name for it. Its called the "School-to-Prison Pipeline."

“I hate the phrase. I’m an educator, so to relate those two things is hard for me,” said Tammy Malich, the assistant superintendent of Education Services in Clark County School District. “Do we play a role and a responsibility to prevent that? Absolutely.”

Tammy Malich might hate the term but she does not deny how important the school system is to what the justice system does.

“How vital are the schools to what you do? Huge,” said a public defender who agreed to speak with News 3. “It’s funny because you’d think during the summer you’d have the biggest infusion of cases but actually it’s during the school year. Most of our referrals come from the district. They’re the first to come into contact, so a huge percentage come from the district.”

When the schools send a kid to the justice system, it’s called a referral. The number of referrals has been increasing.

In 2016, 3,981 students were referred from the district to the system. In 2017, that number jumped to 5,225.

Why? We asked Tammy Malich that question.

“I think societal issues. They increase every year,” said Malich. “I also think recreational marijuana has made it more available.”

The district couldn't give us any statistics to back up that link to marijuana. But no matter the cause, there is a problem.

So now, on Vegas Lost, we can announce a major change to the district. This school year, for the first time the schools are putting boots on the ground.

A pilot program will put mental health professionals and social workers inside select schools across the district

“We'll be piloting it this year,” said Malich. "We have a strand who will be using the same provider for The Harbor, utilizing that resource on site. 26 sites will provide tier-three services onsite, then we have another vendor that will be providing that at five schools.”

Each provider will keep statistics on who they see and follow that kid's progress throughout the year. The goal is to find a model that works and put it in every school in the district.

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