Ohio educators and counselors say schools need more mental health resources

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s time for Ohio students to get back to class, but mental health experts and educators worry that high levels of anxiety among children and teens are making the transition difficult.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard, but Dr Elizabeth Fedrick said it is having the biggest impact on children.

“There is an increase in anxiety, depressive symptoms, which makes sense because a child’s isolation and quarantine – their peers are their world and their extracurricular activities are their world,” said Fedrick.

She is a licensed professional counselor with a Ph.D. in psychology. She has spent years working with children, adolescents and their parents.

“They’re not only dealing with their own mental health issues and how it affects them directly, but they’re dealing with all these additional stressors and strains in the home environment as well,” she added. .

From February to March 2021, suspected suicide attempts jumped 50% among girls aged 12 to 17 compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“Now with this transition to school it adds a whole other element, especially for kids who are struggling with social anxiety and anxieties around school,” the adviser said.

Not only did she see an increase in symptoms of mental illness in children, but she also saw a greater need for school support.

Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro agreed, citing care gaps between children who rely on government assistance and those who do not.

“Even before the pandemic hit, we were seeing evidence of growing mental health needs for students and a gap between those needs and what schools were able to provide,” DiMauro said. “The COVID pandemic has just made the situation worse.”

Every student, regardless of background and mental health needs, should have the support they need to succeed in Ohio schools, he added.

The Invest in Children’s Mental Health Now Act was introduced by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and would give pediatric mental health providers like Fedrick more resources to better help children.

The bill provides for increased Medicaid payments for pediatric mental, emotional, and behavioral health services. It would also provide advice to states on best practices for expanding services, including telehealth, and how to help children in crisis.

“These kind of innovative approaches to accessing resources through Medicaid, accessing resources through existing relief funds that have already been provided to states and schools, all of this support is welcome,” he said. .

However, DiMauro said the shortage of school counselors also needs to be addressed.

“One of the challenges that local school districts face in terms of spending to hire the necessary staff is that there is so much uncertainty around school funding at the state level,” the educator added.

He hopes Ohio lawmakers can fully implement the Fair Schools Funding Plan (FSFP), which has somewhat attempted to roll out for the 2021-22 fiscal year. It was supposed to change the way the state delegates funding to school districts.

“Some lawmakers have slipped in the poison pill of privatization, adding hundreds of millions of state dollars in direct funding and tax credits to subsidize families who send their children to private and charter schools,” said a September 2021 statement from Policy Matters Ohio. “Yet it’s better than the old practice of funding charters (most of which were run by for-profit operators in 2020) and grants to private schools (“vouchers”) out of local district budgets. FSFP put an end to that.”

The major problem with the way it is written now, the organization said, is that in the years to come – instead of delivering on the FSFP’s promise, “they will continue to weaken the public system by diverting increasing shares of funding public to private and for-profit entities.”

Legislators did not fully fund the FSFP and did not commit to fully fund it.

“[By committing to fully fund it, it] will provide a lot of security going forward,” DiMauro said. “These federal dollars can serve as a down payment on a sustainable way to meet the needs of students and educators in our schools.

He says it would reduce the inequities caused by the existing, typical formula that focuses too much on local property taxes. Public school districts use a combination of public funds, local property taxes, sometimes income taxes, and federal funds.

“Beyond access to care, which is, of course, the first and most important hurdle, quality of care is the even bigger concern there,” Fedrick said. “We have to think – it’s being able to afford the service.”

Gov. Mike DeWine also created the Student Welfare and Success Fund, but DiMauro said that kind of funding is inconsistent and because it doesn’t exist in the funding formula, schools can’t. count on the presence of these resources in the long term. term.

It’s not just students who need mental health services. Teachers are leaving in droves and the vast majority of the rest are suffering from burnout, the educator added.

“Too many people are looking for opportunities to leave the profession early,” he said. “And we have fewer people entering the profession.”

So what does this story all boil down to? What every piece of education in the past year has boiled down to: legislation that would impact educators and limit their ability to teach.

“Unfortunately, some really positive efforts are being overshadowed by misguided legislation,” he said, referring to the helpful mental health efforts of Portman and DeWine.

“We need to ensure that educators are respected and supported to do their job,” he added. “We cannot load other things onto our plates, including a responsibility that, in addition to supporting student academic success, that they at the same time serve as armed security guards.”

DiMauro referenced House Bill 99, legislation widely covered by News 5 that was signed into law by DeWine in June, which would allow a local school board to arm any school personnel (teachers, administrators, janitors, cafeteria workers , coaches, etc.) with 24 hours of training.

Previously, armed teachers had to become peace officers with more than 700 hours on average of instructional lessons and firearms training. HB 99 dramatically simplified the carrying of weapons for adults in schools, relaxing regulations by more than 95%.

RELATED: Governor Mike DeWine Addresses Arming Teachers at School Safety Event

For context, the police receive 60 hours of firearms training, including 46 hours on a firing range. School resource officers receive the same as the police, but an additional 40 hours of indoor and range training.

Additionally, News 5 has discovered that the Republican lawmaker who drafted the training curriculum schools should take to allow Ohio teachers to carry guns owns a gun training company that apparently matches all the steps required in the bill.

RELATED: Ohio Lawmaker Who Drafted Bill Mandating Gun Training For Teachers Owns Gun Training Company

While the bill was being heard in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety, hundreds of people came out to oppose it. Throughout the hearing process, more than 350 people testified against the bill, while about 19 testified in favor of it.

“But what [teachers] What I want is for their voices to be heard when important education policy decisions are made,” DiMauro said. “Unfortunately, with the gun bill, the legislature and the governor didn’t listen to the voice of teachers, and they didn’t listen to the voice of the police.”

That’s not to say that all educators think it would be a bad idea to arm staff, but the vast majority have spoken out.

In fact, the majority of schools in northeast Ohio say this proposal is not for them. According to News 5 records, only a few schools across the state have decided or are considering arming staff.

“We have new survey data from the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio (CDF) that surveyed parents across the state,” he said. “Like over 80% of parents in Ohio, believe this is absolutely the right direction and these 90% parents trust and support their children’s teachers.”

The study has not yet been made public, but CDF said it should be in the coming weeks.

At the end of the (school) day, all educators want is to care for their students, help children succeed academically, and provide them with the resources they need to be well. health, including mental health support.

Follow WEWS State House Reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

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