Determine what steps the State Department of Education (the Department) takes to ensure that school districts have the necessary mental health education as required by law. We also sought to determine what mental health services are available in school districts. Our audit covered the period from July 2018 to August 2021.
About the program
As the head of New York State’s education program, the Department is responsible for the general management and supervision of the state’s school districts and the education of approximately 2.6 million students across the state.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented many challenges for students, educators, and parents. Children already struggling with mental health issues have been particularly vulnerable to the changes, and we are now learning the broad impacts on students of school closures, physical distancing guidelines and isolation, and other changes. unexpected in their lives. In mid-March 2020, schools across the United States, including New York State, were closed and had to rapidly adopt remote learning. Among other consequences of these challenges, teachers, students and their families have experienced increased stress and anxiety, which has led to deterioration in mental health. The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 81% of teens are experiencing increased school stress due to COVID-19. In October 2021, a coalition of leading national pediatric health experts (American Academy of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Association, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) issued an urgent warning that the mental health crisis in children is so serious that it has become a national emergency.
To help address New York State’s youth mental health crisis, the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc., a non-profit organization, has issued a call to action for a state law that would require kindergarten mental health classes. –Grade 12 Health Program. With the passing of the legislation, which amended Section 804 of the Education Act (Act) effective July 1, 2018, New York became the first state to require that health education in schools include teaching about mental health. The law requires all school districts to ensure that their health education programs recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relationship between physical and mental health in order to improve understanding, attitudes and student behaviors that promote health, well-being and human health. dignity.
In addition to education, mental health services are an important component of a mental health program; however, the law refrains from requiring that all students have access to mental health services at school. Although school districts are not required to provide mental health services to students unless otherwise specified in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), schools are often seen as the natural and best setting for comprehensive mental health services. prevention and early intervention for all students, including those who do not have identified academic disorders. . The need for mental health services will likely increase as stresses related to COVID-19 and other life factors continue to plague students.
The Department has taken steps to help school districts integrate mental health education into their health education curriculum, including in the form of tips and resources posted on its website. For example, the Ministry’s 2018 guide “Mental Health Education Literacy in Schools: Linking to a Continuum of Well-Being” provides resources and teaching materials based on evidence and best practices to help school districts develop a classroom instruction in accordance with the law. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has issued advice to schools with recommendations on how to help students and what resources are available.
Although not given specific oversight responsibilities under the amended law, the Department is responsible for the general management of public schools and the educational work of the state. Given the scale of the escalating student mental health crisis, the Department should have a way to ensure that school districts across the state have established a mental health program and that schools implement it. However, the Department does not require school districts to submit documents or other information to verify compliance with the law, and therefore has no assurance that all school districts have developed and implemented the curriculum. mental health education required.
For a sample of 22 school districts we interviewed, all were able to describe the mental health program they implemented; however, only 19 actually provided supporting documentation to show that they implemented some kind of mental health education and met the minimum requirements of the law. Additionally, we found that mental health curricula varied among these 19 school districts. Without some level of oversight, the Department cannot be assured that students are receiving mental health education or that instruction is achieving the intent of the law: to improve student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health. , well-being and human dignity.
While state commitment to mental health through education is essential, tackling the mental health crisis requires not only education but also service delivery. When students in all school districts across the state are educated about mental health as an important aspect of overall health and well-being, they will be better equipped to effectively recognize related signs and symptoms. mental health issues in themselves and others and know where to turn for help. In turn, the stigma that surrounds mental health issues will diminish. Although schools are often considered the natural and best setting for comprehensive prevention and early intervention services for all students, we have determined that for many school districts, their mental health teams (that is i.e. psychologists, counselors and social workers employed by the school) are understaffed. , based on staff-student ratios recommended by the National Center for School Mental Health and the National Association of School Psychologists.
- Develop a mechanism to determine whether school districts are providing mental health education as required by law.
- Explore partnerships with state and local entities to determine whether school districts should maintain certain staffing levels for mental health professionals.