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School counselor supports a young student during a group session

Protecting our school communities with Mental Health Supports

The COVID-19 pandemic did not create the mental health crisis in schools, colleges, and universities, but it has exacerbated the problem for both students and educators.

Our schools are the center of our communities and should be the safest, most just places. Our students can’t learn if they aren’t well. Increasingly, that means our students and educators must receive the mental health support they need, and schools must have the resources, staffing, and programs necessary to effectively address the challenges they face.  By working together, we can help protect our school communities and get our students the help they need. As the leading champion of America’s public schools, NEA promotes solution-oriented advocacy to bring much-needed mental health support to students and educators. 

 

Background on the Scale of the Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress among students, as well as educators grappling with being there for their students while coping with challenges of their own. However, this mental health crisis did not begin with the pandemic and will not end with it either.  

Before the pandemic, the CDC tracked that from 2009 and 2019, high school students’ reports of persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased from 26.1% to 36.7%.  And nearly 1 in 5 children had a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, but only 20% of them received care from a mental health provider.  

Now things have gotten even worse because of the devastation of COVID-19. For our students, more than 140,000 have lost a caregiver, with youth of color disproportionately affected. For our educators, a survey of U.S. public sector workers released in October found that K-12 public school educators were the most likely profession to report higher levels of anxiety, stress and burnout – and 55% are ready to leave the profession early

We are in the midst of a crisis. Before the pandemic, many in the halls of power glossed over what was happening, barely even paying lip service to it. Ignoring it, coupled with the weight and toll of the pandemic has only exacerbated things for our students and our educators are carrying too much of this load. It has become even more of an imperative to act with real solutions--more counselors, more resources and more support for students, educators, and their families.

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For Educators

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Resources for Local Unions

Bargaining for The Common Good 

Bargaining has evolved in recent years to have an even stronger community and student focus. As a result, NEA affiliates and employers can prioritize many of the mental health issues affecting both students and educators.  

Bargaining for the Common Good is an innovative approach to bargaining through which NEA affiliates use contract or advocacy campaigns to organize local stakeholders around demands that benefits not just educators, but also students and their families. Some sample provisions relating to social and emotional supports include: 

  • Establishing and providing trauma training to help identify trauma in students 

  • Create or expand crisis teams in every school building to monitor and assist with social/emotional health 

  • Increase staffing of counselors and nurses 

  • Ensure mental health professionals are able to perform their primary job functions instead of working on administrative duties 

  • Partner with local medical and mental health professionals to provide full range of services to students and employees 

  • Track long term effects of the pandemic on students including changes in grades, graduation rates, and absenteeism 

  • Prioritize stress counseling 

American Rescue Plan Funding 

Since the pandemic began last year, the federal government has enacted rescue legislation providing unprecedented levels of support for education. NEA believes that these funds should be used to advance equity, close opportunity gaps for vulnerable students, support the educator workforce, and protect the health and safety of educators, students, and their families. 

The American Rescue Plan includes nearly $170 billion in dedicated public education funding. That money can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces to comply with social distancing; modernize HVAC systems; hire more school custodians, nurses and counselors; and facilitate social distancing on transportation services with additional buses and drivers. The funding can also be used to add supports to address student trauma and learning loss. 

Whether bargaining is permitted in your state or not, it is vital that state and local education associations raise educator voices and assert their professional authority to ensure that all stakeholders, including educators, parents, and community, provide input and be a part of the decision-making processes. NEA created a full guide on strategies for locals to fully utilize the ARP funds effectively

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.