News Article Details

Mesa school board links safety to mental health

Tribune - 3/1/2019

Feb. 28-- Feb. 28--The Mesa Public Schools District Governing Board unanimously passed a resolution that calls students' mental health "a major component of school safety."

Sidestepping a request by some students to call on the State Legislature to fund more counselors and social workers, the resolution states, "keeping our community healthy is a shared responsibility and requires support from the family, community, public schools, local and state public safety agencies, and policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels."

The Governing Board earlier last month decided to delay voting on a declaration a student-led advocacy group is pushing.

March for Our Lives AZ, which is fighting for tougher gun control laws and more safety measures at schools nationwide, visited the board in January to urge it to pass the resolution.

Despite expressing broad agreement that more counselors are indeed needed in schools and the safety of the campuses was a top priority, at least one member took issue with the language in the resolution.

"There are some sweeping statements in here," board President Elaine Miner said. "A resolution to that statement is akin to a policy. It's not suggestion. It's telling the public this is what we are committed to."

Miner said she worried the wording March for Our Lives used in the resolution opens the district up to legal trouble if it doesn't live up to the wording in it.

"We're seeing this more and more where parents are becoming more aggressive and placing the blame on the school system," Miner said. "And they could use this as leverage against the district."

The district's newest board member, Marcie Hutchinson, has met several times with the student group and is pushing the board to pass the resolution.

"I think we need to make the commitment," Hutchinson said. "I think we need written commitments to ensure the safety of our schools. And we make that commitment every day."

Specifically, Hutchinson said she wants wording in the resolution that asks for more resources for on-campus professionals.

Mesa currently has a student to counselor ratio of 600 to 1. The American School Counselor Association recommends schools keep a ratio of 250 to 1, meaning Mesa would need more than double its current number of counselors to reach that standard.

"We can't do the things that we need to do as schools if kids and teachers don't feel safe," Hutchinson said. "That's not only physical barriers. It's also providing some social work help."

The board agreed to return to the matter because of the pressing need for counselors in light of the recent surge in teenage suicides in the East Valley.

"I want to make this a priority as we are now looking at the whole child now," Miner said, adding:

"But is this (resolution) the way we are willing to do that? I have my doubts. I could be wrong. Maybe resolutions don't mean that much."


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