State Department releases work plan to tackle youth behavioral health

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Students from the Nampa Online School come together at a fundraiser to collect snacks for hungry students. Sami Edge / Idaho EdNews

The Idaho State Department of Education last week finalized a work plan to help schools meet students’ mental and behavioral health needs.

In a statewide survey last year, more than 90% of school leaders said they saw the value in providing behavioral health services to students, but only 60% had put some kind of plan in place to try to meet those needs. Eric Studebaker, SDE’s director of student safety and engagement, convened a panel of medical professionals, educators and state officials following the investigation to guide SDE’s efforts to help expand behavioral health resources.

The new work plan addresses 10 of the 11 recommendations put forward by this group, including improving state data and educators’ access to mental health resources. The plan will guide SDE’s efforts over the next 18 to 24 months, Studebaker said.

Key elements of the plan include:

  • Bring together educators working on mental health in a professional learning community where they can share resources and ideas.
  • Improve state data tools to help districts track and assess student well-being through indicators such as behavior, attendance and bullying.
  • Obtain an accurate tally of the number of school counselors, psychologists and other student services staff currently working in Idaho schools. (The state’s current ratio, Studebaker said, is skewed because part-time workers are counted as full-time.)
  • Complete an RFP for a statewide student aid program where students could quickly access mental health services.

This RFP is a first step towards the potential development of a statewide mental health resource similar to the Cassia County and Twin Falls programs, where students could gain immediate access to assistance. in a crisis or to a local mental health provider. Responses to tenders will help set the stage for what the service might cost and “if it’s even a reality,” Studebaker said.

“If we could do this it could be a huge step forward in connecting families to services,” he said.

The work plan misses one of the state group’s recommendations: Adopt a common framework for discussing socio-emotional learning in Idaho classrooms.

The SDE management team decided not to act on this recommendation in light of the a national survey suggesting that the term “socio-emotional learning” is unpopular with parents, and divisive political rhetoric around the term, Studebaker said. Socio-emotional learning (SEL) has been drawn into partisan debates over whether schools teach critical race theory or try to “brainwash” young people with liberal ideology.

The state is evaluating whether it will continue to use the term “socio-emotional learning,” Studebaker said.

“The commitment to components is still there,” said SDE spokesperson Kris Rodine. “It’s just the terminology that’s the flashpoint.”

Idaho does not have a statewide column on how schools should provide behavioral health supports to students. A student’s access to mental health services at school depends on where they live and whether administrators have the funds or interest in providing these services.

This new work plan does not cement any new mental health requirements for school districts. However, the federal government has asked school districts to assess student well-being in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and describe how they will use millions of federal relief funds to support the social and emotional health of students. students.

Studebaker is optimistic that federal COVID-19 relief funds have helped districts pay for new behavioral health projects, and that the state’s plan will provide more resources for those projects to be successful.

He recognizes that some communities and educators question whether schools should be involved in addressing youth mental health.

Time, he thinks, might convince them.

“All I hear, what I am witnessing, is that our children have been hit hard by this pandemic,” Studebaker said. “Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see bullying, suicidal ideation, depression, all of those things are going to increase. I think that’s what’s going to involve the schools.

Studebaker will present their work plan in more detail at the upcoming SDE Student Safety Symposium on October 21.

Sami edge

About Sami Edge

Journalist Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a member of the Education Writers Association 2019 and reports on results for Latino students in Idaho. She is also a member of the American Press Institute in 2019. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Read more stories from Sami Edge »

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