Dallas ISD provides mental health options for students, but many school districts in Texas don’t

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The new school year is underway across Texas, and it’s gotten off to a rocky start in some places: Staffing issues, school bus delays, and ongoing culture war controversies have all made headlines.

But some advocates are sounding the alarm on another issue: Just three months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers, many districts are under-resourced. in mental health.

Governor Greg Abbott has made mental health services a focal point of his policy response to the Uvalde massacre, but more than half of all school districts in Texas still do not have access to mental health resources, according to CBS News. Many others do not have enough.

Rena Honea, president of the Dallas Alliance-AFT teachers’ union, said mental health services in schools are more important than ever, adding that the pandemic and mass shootings, among other issues, have “traumatized many students “.

“For students to be successful, the needs of the whole child must be addressed for them to learn, grow and succeed,” she said via email.

According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), one in six school-aged children suffers from disabilities related to mental illnessa number that increases with the age of the students.

Governor Abbott has widely blamed the school shootings on mental illness. He charged the TEA to “provide strategies to make Texas public schools safer,” but so far, that hasn’t translated into very many concrete resources for students in Texas schools.

Abbott and other Texas officials have pledged to spend $100 million in public funds to help keep schools safe, but the Texas Grandstand recently reported that only $10.5 million must be devoted to access to telemedicine or to the treatment of young people at risk. (Meanwhile, some $50 million is earmarked for bulletproof shields for school officers.)

Access to Child Health in Texas Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) is a telehealth program that helps school districts improve student behavioral health and provides access to mental health services. Many school districts still do not have access to the program, but Dallas ISD offers access to these services. Tracey Brown, executive director of mental health services at Dallas ISD, says the district has 205 team members, including 165 licensed mental health clinicians.

“Dallas ISD has one of the most unique school-based mental health programs in the country,” Brown said via email, explaining that the district provides “school-based and clinical-based psychotherapeutic services to meet the needs of students”.

The DISD also offers students mental health resources As hotlines and text lines they can contact as well as links to forms they can fill in if they need behavioral support, psychiatric services, or physical health resources like vaccines.

Yet the the state of Texas is in the red when it comes to student-psychologist ratio, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). (The NASP says there should be a ratio of 500 students to every school psychologist, but the number in Texas was 2,000 to 1, as of January 2022.)

Only seven other states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia) and Puerto Rico have a ratio of about this size.

Labor leader Honea believes Texas districts are doing what they can, or at least what they can afford, but she said there’s always room for improvement. She also believes that the people on the ground doing the actual work know best how to solve a problem.

“Legislators need to listen to the people who are in our schools doing the real work,” she said. “Lobbyists and non-educators dictate what happens in schools, and the results are not what they might be if the laws were based on real school situations and needs. School districts must make students the true priority of actions and not just words.”

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