To the Editor:
Calls for armed guards, teachers, and principals to protect our schools proliferate in the national discourse since the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. This debate is really missing the mark and should instead focus on how lawmakers and policymakers can fund more mental-health resources for our schools and students.
We should applaud the Mental Health in Schools Act proposed by U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif. (“Mental-Health Bill to Address Students,” Jan. 30, 2013).
The research is alarming. The National Health Policy Forum in 2004 found that 20 percent of all children have an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder, and that 10 percent of children with mild disorders are undiagnosed. However, in 2011, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that nearly $1.6 billion in cuts had been made to non-Medicaid state mental-health spending from 2009 to 2011.
As schools drown in unfunded mandates, tax caps, and high-stakes exams, it seems as though we need to re-examine our priorities for schools.
The Common Core State Standards establish expectations for “college and career” readiness. But as we move forward, equal concern should be placed on a child’s academic growth and his or her mental wellness.
We should look for ways to ameliorate the stresses on our school systems to ensure a balance of priorities. We need the public, lawmakers, and policymakers to focus on helping schools create environments of caring for children as individuals and learners. We must value the work of educators as mental-health providers, whether teachers, counselors, psychologists, or administrators.
As Vice President Joe Biden has said, “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Steven M. Garcia
Valhalla Middle School
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as Mental-Health Bill Deserves Praise