New mental health law challenges school districts
Jan. 22, 2014 at 11 p.m.
More guidance will be needed before school districts can comply with a new state law requiring mental health training, school administrators gathered in Longview agreed Wednesday.
Educators from Longview ISD and 15 other districts from Frankston to Atlanta discussed Senate Bill 460, which was passed by the 2013 Legislature, as part of a Student Safety National Alliance Summit.
The measure requires training public school teachers in the detection and education of students at risk for suicide or with other mental or emotional disorders. It also calls for inclusion of mental health concerns in school health efforts.
"We haven't done (any training) yet, because we do not want to train and then it not count," said LISD Assistant Superintendent Jody Clements.
The law went into effect in August, but Clements said districts across the state still have not received clarification of how several of its provisions can best be honored.
According to the bill, the instruction required for every teacher, counselor, principal and all other appropriate personnel includes understanding the characteristics of the most prevalent mental or emotional disorders among children, how to identify mental or emotional disorders and strategies for teaching and intervening with students.
The law does not list the "prevalent mental or emotional disorders," Clements said, but they would likely include anxiety, behavior problems, depression, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, self harm, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, psychosis and stress.
The instruction must be developed, per the law, by a panel of experts in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional disorders who are appointed by the board, but Clements told the group it was not clear who would qualify as an expert under the law.
"Any time you are talking about student safety you want to have opportunities to come together to get other people's ideas," said Keith Murphy, superintendent of Frankston ISD.
He added that while the superintendents and directors often are the face of the district, it is beneficial to hear other ideas.
"There are a lot of great ideas that are out there. We are going to take them go back and take what applies to us and find things that we can implement, but it is always good to network and have a body of superintendents ... and share ideas," Murphy said.
Drew Chadwick, a director with Dallas-based Pave Systems that's worked with Longview ISD to implement a campus safety system, told the summit attendees he had reached out to the Texas Education Agency to find out how districts could comply with the law, but the process hadn't been made clear.
Clements, who oversees security for Longview's largest school district, said other states had a training regimen that had been approved, but he didn't know if it would be allowed for the Texas districts to use it to count toward the now mandatory training.