Welcome to another edition of Answering Your ESSA Questions, where we help you understand the Every Student Succeeds Act.
This question from an anonymous reader is particularly timely.
Question: How does ESSA handle mental health in schools?
Answer: There aren’t any explicit requirements that states include mental health in their ESSA plans. But states can include them in the portions of their plans that deal with supports for low-performing schools, educator professional development, and Title IV of ESSA, a flexible block grant that districts can use for school safety, school counselors, and more. For instance, Kentucky will look at whether low-performing schools have access to mental health professionals.
Generally, state ESSA plans are not very explicit when it comes to how states and districts will implement the components of a comprehensive mental health plan, said Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, the director of policy and advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists, who has done a preliminary review of how mental health figured into state plans.
That doesn’t mean states aren’t taking steps on mental health. They just may not have put it in their ESSA blueprint, which is subject to intense scrutiny by the feds, she said.
Most states didn’t use ESSA as an opportunity to take mental health off in a new direction, Vaillancourt Strobach said.
“There was nothing like, ‘Wow this state has been doing nothing on mental health and now they’ll be doing,’” a lot, she said.
Overall, she said, “specific details about mental and behavioral health is significantly lacking from the plans.” But she isn’t so sure that would be the case if they had been written more recently. “These plans were written pre-Parkland,” she said of the school shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “Would these plans look different after renewed focus on mental health and safety? Maybe states would have tried to hold themselves more accountable for it if they were written now.”
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