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School Safety Subcommittee Votes On Recommendations For Enhancing Report For Student Behavioral And Social Health

On Monday, the House Select Committee on School Safety’s Student Health Working Group held its second meeting to vote on recommendations and to hear from school nurses and school social workers. These recommendations, along with those from the Student Physical Safety and Security Working Group, will be finalized by the full committee in May prior to the General Assembly short session.

The student health working group, chaired by Rep. Josh Dobson (R-McDowell), voted to approve the following recommendations:

  1. Accept the national certified school psychologist credential as complete fulfillment of the requirements for licensure as a school psychologist.
  2. Continue to work towards a goal of meeting national recommendations for staffing of student support positions to ensure and improve care and intervention for the social and emotional needs of students.
  3. Require that threat assessment teams in all public schools to better assess and intervene in potential threats within the school setting.
  4. Require peer to peer counseling programs in middle and high schools to identify and assist students with social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
  5. Further study and develop a plan to efficiently coordinate care among mental health support professionals and to train these professionals to identify potentially dangerous mental and behavioral health issues.
  6. The House Select Committee on School Safety should explore expansion statewide of applications that allow anonymous reporting on potential threats, abuse, or related issues (such as the Speak Up NC app).

Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) while stating report for the recommendations, also urged the committee to identify specific funding amounts related to each program and initiative; Rep. Dobson responded that the full committee is likely to look at funding levels and other specifics.

Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) suggested that the programs presented, or similar programs, be expanded into statewide programs; Rep. Dobson responded that there are many programs to be considered and the full committee will need to assign priorities for expansion and funding. Several members also expressed interest in the Speak Up NC app, getting school psychologists to rural counties and more school psychologists in schools, and getting more school nurses throughout the state.

Before approving the recommendations, committee members heard presentations on the lack of school nurses and school social workers and discussed existing social and behavioral programs in NC. Liz Newlin, Immediate Past President of the School Nurse Association of North Carolina (SNANC) and previous school nurse, presented the roles and responsibilities of school nurses, and said many serve six schools each week.

“School nurses are the most accessible professional with mental health training when present in school every day” yet, “very few schools in North Carolina have a school nurse in the building every day” Newlin said.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) expressed his strong support for increasing school nurse funding. According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), there is one nurse for every 2,315 students in NC; however, the national recommendation is one nurse in every school.

“I believe the school nurses play an integral role in school safety mental health issues, so I strongly recommend us, as a committee, to get up to at least the national standard, $44 million,” Rep. Horn said. To view Newlin’s presentation, click here.

Next, subcommittee members heard from Sandra Williams-McGlone of Bertie County Schools and President-Elect of the North Carolina School Social Workers Association. She outlined the role of school social workers by addressing student mental and behavioral health issues and highlighted that many are “increasingly unmet,” particularly in rural districts, due to a shortage of school social workers. According to DPI, the school social worker to student ratio is 1:1,427. Lastly, she recommended more access to school social worker programs statewide. To view her presentation, click here.

Deborah Richardson, Supervisor of the Alliance Behavioral Healthcare School Based Care Coordination in partnership with the Wake County Public School System, highlighted the alliance’s programs and initiatives, including: the Kids in Crisis campaign, school based care coordination, crisis programs, crisis intervention team training, the diversion program, young child mental health, and the Alliance Access and Information Center. These programs include an array of social, behavioral, and pre-legal services to students of all ages and serve as resources to students, schools, and parents. Rep. Dollar said the alliance’s initiatives need to be expanded statewide. To view the presentation, click here.

Lastly, the committee heard from Carteret County Schools on the Signs of Suicide Prevention program (SOS), a program designed to prevent youth suicide. Presenters included Don Griffin, Newport Middle School Counselor, and Dr. Sue Kreuser, Healthful Living Director. The program encourages open communication about mental health, teaches students about depression, suicide, self-harm, and substance abuse. It also explains that suicide is preventable, and provides training to teachers, parents, and students on how to identify serious depression. To view the SOS presentation, click here.

To view draft legislation from the committee, click here. To view all handouts from the meeting, click here.

Jacqueline Wyatt for NCASA