Earlier this week, the legislature’s School Safety Subcommittee on Student Health, which was created after the Parkland school shooting, met to discuss ways to improve safety at schools across North Carolina.
During the meeting on April 9, legislators heard presentations from groups including the North Carolina School Counselors Association and the North Carolina School Psychology Association, who both suggested that school districts be given funding to hire more mental and behavioral health specialists.
The National Association of School Psychologists said there should be one school psychologist per 700 students. The average seen right now in schools across North Carolina, however, is one for every 2,100.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has 70 school psychologists spread across its 170 schools, averaging
one psychologist per every 2,100 students. Cabarrus County Schools has 18 school psychologists for its 39 schools, averaging one per every 1,800 students.
Just across the border in Fort Mill, South Carolina, the school district is exceeding recommendations. Although they are one of the smaller school districts in our area, they employ 15 school psychologists across 15 schools and seven preschool programs. They said they also have 36 school counselors, six behavior interventionists and six mental health counselors.
“I think it’s critical, especially this day in age,” said Karen Monahan, coordinator of psychological and related services for the Fort Mill school district.
“This is my 11th year and I’ve seen an increase in anxiety in kids. I think it’s critical that we’re here to help support their needs. Kids can’t learn unless they have those other pieces taken care of first,” she said.
Research backs up her claims, showing a broad array of psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety are skyrocketing, especially among school-age children. What’s worse, data shows 80 percent of children in need of mental health services never receive them, but when they do, those services usually come from their school.
“So, when teachers first become worried about a student they might start with a school counselor and work on intervention plans and maybe the school psychologist depending on what level of concern they have for that student. They might look specifically at that student’s behavior or their emotional factors or their academics, depending on what their concerns are,” said Monahan.
Monahan said having an adequate number of school counselors and other mental health professionals will 'absolutely' make schools safer, and while she said they are just one piece to the puzzle, she admitted they’re a very big piece.
“People want to say we just need the hard safety stuff in schools, or resource officers, or we just need that. We really need both," said Monahan.
The North Carolina School Safety Subcommittee on Student Health is expected to meet again on April 23.