When President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) into law last June, we took another step closer to the schools that parents, educators, and students want: Safe and welcoming spaces that foster students’ physical and mental well-being.
Thanks in large part to educator advocacy, BSCA included the first meaningful gun reform in roughly 30 years. It also provided unprecedented funding to address student mental health needs. Though not all mental health issues lead to violence and not all violence stems from mental health issues, there is significant overlap.
Changes to Gun Laws
The legislation expands background checks; targets interstate gun trafficking; and supports state “red flag” laws, which allow courts to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. These are the kind of commonsense changes that educators support—not dangerous, unproven ideas like arming teachers.
Deborah Gatrell is both a teacher and a lieutenant colonel in the Utah Army National Guard. While Gatrell is highly trained in the use of firearms, she says she would never want to carry a weapon in the classroom.
“I’m a teacher and you are my student,” Gatrell says. “I can’t see you as a potential threat and then teach you.”
Though lawmakers need to do much more, educators recognize that the new law is an important first step in curbing America’s gun violence epidemic.
Funding for Mental Health
NEA also advocated for funding to dedicate to students’ mental and physical health with the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Educators sounded the alarm years ago about the need for more nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in schools. The loss and isolation brought on by the pandemic made the skyrocketing need among students undeniable.
The Biden administration and key members of Congress listened when educators, students, and parents spoke out. NEA members said it would take significant funding to help schools address mental health—and President Biden came through. The law also expands how schools can use funding from Medicaid, which means more students will receive physical and mental health screenings and services.