In addition to the economic and social impact COVID-19 has had on our Latino families and other minority groups, our community is now having to worry about losing access to mental health services for high school and middle school students. Currently, one of the largest districts in Santa Clara County, the San Jose Unified School District decided to replace mental health counselors with teachers. They are expecting teachers, who are not certified or trained to handle these health crises, to absorb the responsibilities of mental health professionals. The district’s decision left parents and community leaders frustrated because our students will no longer have mental health services available on campus. This puts us in a crisis and we’re now fighting for these services and for the district to hire permanent mental health counselors at all sites.
Research shows that the number of students experiencing mental illness has increased due to the pandemic. In a survey conducted by the RAND corporation, California K-12 school principals reported on the severity of mental health related problems among students. More than 3/4 of principals agree that students are suffering from social, emotional, and mental health problems at higher rates than ever before. More than 60% of high school principals and nearly half of middle school principals reported that “student depression” is a moderate to severe problem among students. Furthermore, a quarter of high school principals and 16% of middle school principals reported that suicide attempts are also a moderate to severe problem, along with a growing concern about the use of drugs, alchochol, and tobacco.
Despite these troubling statistics, the San José Unified District has moved forward with removing mental health services for our students. The board of trustees and the district superintendent has made the decision to replace mental health counselors with teachers who, in addition to teaching, will be responsible for providing mental health support to their students in the classroom. The district refuses to hire permanent mental health counselors and instead invites interns recommended by local agencies. Many of these interns are only required to provide services on campus for one to two hours a week. The fact that these interns are at sites for such a small time window makes it difficult for them to provide services to very many students. It’s not only the San José Unified District making this mistake, many districts in Santa Clara County are moving towards removing these services from campuses.
As parents, we have to advocate for mental health services, especially in the aftermath of the last two years. This is an especially difficult time, students are feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, and many are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. If we do not speak up and demand for these services to be restored, our community is at risk of failing our young people. Even before the pandemic, the State of California and Governor Newsom were giving schools and districts funding to provide mental health support. We must question our district representatives and elected officials about where these funds are and how they’re being spent, if it’s not on hiring permanent mental health personnel. Together we can change the future of our students. Join this movement by demanding that more mental health services be provided in our schools.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Line at 1 800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in an emergency. Please be sure to request a trained and prepared Mental Health Crisis Officer (CTI Officer).