Although students can be struggling, suffering, in emotional trauma, or at risk of harming themselves or even others, a one-year-old State Education law requiring mental health training for faculty and staff is not being taken seriously enough, according to members of NYSUT’s Health and Safety Committee.
Emily Conrad, White Plains Teachers Association, said in her district the mental health training for staff is nothing more than speeding through about 10 minutes worth of information online and then answering four questions at the end. Several others confirmed the same experience at their schools.
Students are now taught about stress, depression and suicide prevention, Conrad said. “We teach kids. Why can’t we teach adults?”
The 2016–17 State Education Department budget included amendments to Education Law requiring school emergency response plan training and mental health training.
“Educators play a critical role in the success of students, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Knowing how to recognize the signs of crisis, emotional trauma and other related mental health issues is critical,” reports SED. Information about warning signs and behavioral changes can inform staff about indications of a problem, and how to support a student.
While the state acknowledges the complexity of the issue, it is yet another unfunded mandate.
“I’ve been giving a lot of training to our members around the state on school violence, and the number one issue is mental health,” said Wendy Hord, NYSUT Health and Safety specialist.
She encourages school districts to use the resources at hand — such as school psychologists, counselors, social workers and school nurses — to work with staff and provide tools.
SED is not “telling districts how to utilize their own resources,” Hord said.
She encouraged union members to speak to school health care professionals and solicit advice on how mental training could be improved, and use those recommendations to put a proposal before the district.
“Then, if they don’t respond, call your (NYSUT) labor relations specialist and report them to SED,” Hord said.
“Teachers want to know what to do,” said Winsome Brown Cook, a social worker and member of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association.
Members of NYSUT’s Health and Safety Committee took a break from their meeting for a real health and safety moment: a fire drill. Photo by Liza Frenette.