- In light of higher youth suicide rates and racial disparities in school discipline, Denver Public Schools' superintendent and school board heard students, graduates and parents from nonprofit advocacy group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos present a list of demands: Among them is a lower ratio of students to mental health workers, disarming campus safety officers and eliminating police officers in schools, Chalkbeat reports.
- Despite a districtwide downward trend in suspensions and expulsions, its black and Latino students are still much more likely to get suspended than their white peers. In addition, the Students for Education Reform organization has pushed for increased mental health supports and for professionals who not only reflect those they serve, but who also focus just on mental health — rather than splitting their time between counseling, academics and other duties, Chalkbeat notes.
- While the recommended ratio of students to social workers is 250-to-1, it was 681-1 last year in Denver, Chalkbeat notes. This reflects a nationwide problem, and a recent American Civil Liberties Union report found that millions of U.S. public school students have police at their school but not a nurse, psychologist or social worker.
As many school leaders devise budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, they may struggle to balance funding mental health resources and hardening buildings. In the wake of several recent shootings, many schools have devoted more resources to security, often at the urging of parents concerned about student safety.
As a result, some have become so focused on security that schools have started to resemble prisons more than places of learning. Schools with too many security measures can create a culture of fear, rather than one than feels safe. At the same time, it's still unclear whether schools with high-tech security measures are safer. And after reports of mishandling of weapons on school grounds, some worry the presence of guns at schools may actually lower safety and induce risk, while others feel the increased presence of weapons is a protective measure.
In creating a positive school climate and a safe place for learning, mental health supports are key pieces of the puzzle. The rates of suicide and suicide attempts for students have increased dramatically — middle schoolers are now as likely to die from suicide as from traffic accidents. Suicide is now the third-leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. And high school suicide rates doubled among girls ages 15-19 from 2007 to 2015 and rose 30% for boys of that age during the same time period.
Bullying and stress are often factors that, if unaddressed, can cause more severe mental health issues down the line. Students also face a host of other mental health issues that affect their lives and their academic performance. Many students face family issues, drug abuse and other social-emotional needs that require access to mental health professionals and social workers. As schools struggle to meet these needs, more are turning to the use of peer mentors and counselors to help address issues that are less immediate in nature. But just as students want teachers who look like them, having this connection is also likely to benefit a student in seeking help.
When it comes to school discipline, while restorative practices have proven to be successful, schools need to zero in on how to ensure that minority and special education students still aren't disproportionately affected. Methods including coaching teachers on classroom management, offering professional development on culturally responsive strategies and using the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework can help curb racial disparities.