AUSTIN (KXAN) — As students and staff head back to class, Texas lawmakers suggested a renewed focus on mental health and school safety.
The Senate Select Committee on School Violence and School Security met over the summer to hear testimony from experts and the public, culminating in a report full of recommendations for the Legislature to address next session.
Included in that report is a recommendation to expand Mental Health First Aid training to any district employee who interacts with students. The training is designed to serve as short-term, day-to-day support until counselors get involved.
At Manor ISD, Nanette Deaton is preparing her team of counselors for students to arrive. Deaton, who serves as director of guidance and career readiness, said in addition to counselors and social workers on campuses, the district has six mental health therapists through a partnership with Integral Care, and six of the Manor ISD campuses are served by Communities in Schools.
“We are all here to help and we are all here to help while your student is at school and also not at school,” Deaton said.
Mental Health First Aid training is about relationships, Deaton said.
“It’s a lot about relationships, and teachers, administrators, all district staff, bus drivers, cafeteria, all taking the time to get to know our students and build those relationships, and then being able to recognize when you see a change in that child,” she explained.
State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said the senate committee wholeheartedly agreed the state needs to make changes, like adding more mental health intervention counselors. He said lawmakers should provide school staff with the tools to identify signs that a student needs a closer look.
“We don’t expect our teachers to take on mental health counseling obviously, but the first aid per se is to recognize who has a need,” Taylor said.
Deaton said the training should not substitute intervention from a counselor, but it supports students in the meantime until the crisis passes or more fulfilling care arrives.
“No moving or adding of responsibility [to staff], but rather equipping all on how to respond for initial support,” Deaton said.
State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, said he intended to file legislation when lawmakers reconvene in Jan. that would address funding for training and other mental health programs in Texas school districts.
“I suspect I will refile something similar this upcoming session, really just in an effort to better educate those who are working in the school system, not necessarily the kids themselves, but those in the school system so they can take advantage of programs like mental health first aid better,” Price said.
“We want to make sure that there’s less of a stigma, there’s more access to help for the kids that need it and we’re providing the resources to make that happen,” Price added.
While Price said it would be difficult to conclude that every instance of violence is a result of mental health, early diagnosis and treatment is critical.
“Statistically, most mental health disorders can be diagnosed and treated successfully and most will manifest in young children before the age of 14,” he continued. “I think if we concentrate on that area, you can’t eliminate some of these issues from occurring, but you can certainly improve and manage the situation significantly better.”
Manor ISD recommended parents take advantage of upcoming open house nights so families can meet the teachers and administrators who interact with students on a daily basis.