Mental health issues dominate discussion at federal school safety meeting
- Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen listened Wednesday as a panel of experts discussed providing mental health services in schools and the obstacles that stand in the way, Education Week reports.
- The impact of psychotropic drugs on students received attention as well as the benefit of school-based mental health clinics. Sheryl Kataoka, a professor-in-residence in the University of California Los Angeles's Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, noted that according to one study, only 9 of 60 students completed treatment in a community-based setting while 53 of 58 students completed treatment in a school-based setting.
- The members of the commission also discussed whether privacy laws, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), are preventing school, mental health and law enforcement officials from collaborating to discuss possible threats or needs and if those laws should be amended or reinterpreted to prevent a student from harming themselves or others.
This latest Federal Commission on School Safety meeting focused more on mental health issues, rather than gun control. This has been true of other meetings of the commission as well. While some educators are disturbed that gun control is not a bigger part of the conversation, the need for increased mental health services is recognized by almost all stakeholders. However, the need for increased mental health services was also highlighted after the Sandy Hook shooting and some states increased funding at that time. Within a short time, however, that funding had decreased in many cases.
Students often experience mental health issues in adolescence and early adulthood, but schools often struggle to meet their needs. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Half of individuals living with mental illness experience onset by the age of 14. This number jumps to 75% by the age of 24.” However, these issues often remain untreated, affecting the student’s education, and, in some cases, the safety of those around them. As NAMI points out, “One in five youth live with a mental health condition, but less than half of these individuals receive needed services. Undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated mental health conditions can affect a student’s ability to learn, grow and develop.”
The federal government and many states are looking at ways to fund mental health services in the wake of recent events. In Ohio, for instance, lawmakers are now allowing funds once earmarked for school safety to be used for mental health services. While school administrators wait for these issues to sort out, they can be proactive in educating themselves on the issue and in seeking grant funding for their school districts from a growing number of sources. There are also new resources available to help administrators prepare for school crisis scenarios. The AASA, The School Superintendents Association, just released a toolkit that provides valuable information and the Secret Service also released a guide intending to help schools identify troubled students before a crisis ensues.