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School Safety Subcommittee Hears From School Counselors and School Psychologists, Discusses North Carolina’s Shortages

On Monday, the Student Health Subcommittee of the House Select Committee on School Safety held its first meeting to discuss the role that school counselors, psychologists and school-based mental health programs play in heading off violence and the needs for enhancements in all three areas.

Tim Hardin, an elementary school counselor in Gaston County Schools and the North Carolina School Counselor Association (NCSCA) President-Elect, highlighted the general responsibilities of school counselors and the need to lessen the student to school counselor ratio. Hardin said the current NC ratio is 386:1, while the national recommendation is 250:1. Rep. D. Craig Horn (R-Union) stated that our ratio represents “quite a disparity” and asked staff for information on what it might cost to bring our ratios down to 250:1. Subcommittee members discussed methods of reducing the ratio, potentially beginning at the high school level and working down to lower grades.

Also, Hardin stated that there might be school counselors throughout the state who are not certified. He said it was the “word on the street,” which led many committee members to request more data on school counselors to help determine if there is a school counselor shortage in rural counties, and what can be done to ensure that each counselor is properly educated and certified.  To view Hardin’s presentation, click here.

Next, Heather Lynch Boling of Wake County Schools and President of the North Carolina School Psychology Association, described the roles and responsibilities of school psychologists for the subcommittee. According to Boling, most school psychologists serve multiple schools, often with only one school psychologist serving an entire district, and use a kit to assess students with a standard set of four tools. She said few school psychologists in NC operate under the nationally recommended ratio of one psychologist for each 500-700 students and have more time to provide direct academic and social-emotional/mental health intervention services to individuals and groups of students through a preventative model of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

Boling said the staffing ratio in NC is 1:2,100, while the recommended average is 1:700. She also stated that 12 school districts in NC have no school psychologist and that many in this field can earn up to $10,000 more a year by working in neighboring states that pay more.  To view all resources from her presentation, click here.

Lynn Makor, Consultant for School Psychology at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, presented the subcommittee with statistics and data on NC school psychologists, as well as barriers currently preventing students from having equitable access to school psychological resources. She included student to school psychologist ratios, salaries, the lack of trained school psychologists in NC, and the growing need for them. According to Makor, the student population in NC is increasing, while the amount of school psychologists is decreasing.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Josh Dobson (R-McDowell) asked Ms. Makor how NC could change the process and reciprocity structure for school psychologists to prompt more to move to and practice here. However, she responded that NC meets the national standards in terms of salary and training, but still does not meet adequate student to school psychologist ratios. Makor stressed the importance of schools functioning as a “working team in both the social and emotional side of things,” not just the educational side of things. Rep. Charles Graham (D-Robeson) stated that we need to look at the Tier One counties that are hurting due to having extremely high ratios. To view Makor’s materials, click here.

Next from DPI, School Counseling Consultant Cynthia J. Floyd discussed the following aspects of school counselors, social workers, and nurses: salary, minimum educational requirements, basic duties in schools, and how they work with school psychologists.

Mark Benton, Deputy Secretary for Health Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, talked to the subcommittee about improving mental health services in schools by explaining the resources that students in NC have, including insurance and programs. “Unrecognized and untreated, mental health issues can lead to academic failure in school, conflicts with teachers and family members, and justice involvement,” he said, and “just over 10% or 250,000 of those under 18 are estimated to be struggling with a significant mental health or substance use issue.” And about 31% are not receiving help or treatment for their mental health or substance use issues.

He highlighted the following:

  • The prevalence of mental health issues and coverage in NC
  • Current DHHS involvement in schools
  • Future efforts, including training and technical assistance, Medicaid and NC Health Choice (NCHC), and increasing the number of counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses in schools.

To view his materials, click here.

Lastly, Kym Martin, Executive Director of the N.C. Center for Safer Schools, provided the subcommittee an overview of the N.C. Center for Safer Schools. She also described the comprehensive school-based mental health model, school mental health provider partnerships, school mental health programs supported by university training programs, school-based health clinics with behavioral health components, student tutoring and mentoring program (STAMP), threat assessment teams and oversight committees, and a reiteration of the access to care protocol, which was presented at the full School Safety Committee’s inaugural meeting.

Rep. John A. Torbett (R-Gaston) asked Ms. Martin to work with staff on three items: peer-to-peer programs, the STAMP Program, and to develop legislative language to generate a threat assessment team. Subcommittee members also expressed interest in peer-to-peer programs, apps such as SPEAK UP NC. Her presentation can be found at the bottom of Ms. Makor’s presentation, here.

To view media coverage on the meeting, click here.

Jacqueline Wyatt for NCASA