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Letter to the Senate HELP Committee on Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013

April 09, 2013

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to submit the following comments in connection with tomorrow’s markup of the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013. 

NEA supports a comprehensive approach to making schools safer that includes addressing mental-health needs. We are pleased that the proposed bill:

  • Encompasses positive behavioral interventions and supports.
  • Expands access to mental-health services.
  • Recognizes the need to meet students’ emotional needs, as well as encourage their academic achievement.
  • Encourages partnerships among mental-health programs based in schools and communities.
  • Enhances requirements for reporting on mental-health programs based in schools and dissemination of information about such programs to educators, students, and parents.
  • Includes mental-health programs in school improvement strategies.
  • Requires schools to create or update their crisis management plans.

However, a further step we believe is needed to help school districts provide a safe and secure learning environment for all students is to offer assistance to communities to address staffing shortages of professionals who are essential to helping prevent violence. We support allowing communities to decide for themselves what kinds of personnel and support they most need, which can include school counselors, social workers and psychologists, as well as professional development for the entire school staff in cultural competence, conflict management, anti-bullying techniques, the warning signs of mental illness, and identifying students at risk. Funding for security personnel, like school resource officers, could also be an option if it is conditioned on community support and appropriate training like those areas mentioned above.  

A secure learning environment is a critical component of a quality education. Safe and orderly schools facilitate effective teaching and learning, while violence or the threat thereof diverts attention and resources away from education. Students cannot learn and educators cannot teach when threatened by physical violence or harassment.  

We thank you for taking steps to address this important issue and look forward to working with you to enhance school safety with a comprehensive approach as this legislation moves forward. 


Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations