Four considerations that schools must address before resuming business as usual.
More and more people are justifying their opinion about schools reopening at the conclusion of summer recess. As I continuously watch the news on television and listen to it on the radio, I constantly hear advocates who want schools to open repeat something that I am beginning to find very disturbing and irritating at the same time.
Educators everywhere are very remarkable people. They love their students unconditionally and always give their best for the good of their learning community. I am able to affirm these things because I spent so many years as an educator in various capacities. Simply stated, educators have big hearts.
Despite all of the wonderful sights and sounds of learning that take place in schools and classrooms, many people who are far removed from the process of education now portray schools as the universal provider for all of the things that children need. This includes politicians who have not entered a school nor interacted with educators, students, and parents in quite a while.
These are the individuals who have been making repetitive and blanket statements about children needing to return to school to have their mental health needs met. They assume that mental health services are automatically provided to any child who may require it.
They assume that these services magically appear for students.
Educators adhere to the multi-tiered system of support within their schools. They provide various academic, social, emotional, and behavioral interventions along with adaptations and modifications to students as they need them. These professionals demonstrate instructional flexibility as they differentiate the assistance that they always provide each learner. School psychologists enhance the efforts of school administrators, teachers, counselors, the school nurse, and other staff members. Schools fortunate enough to have social workers also receive the specialized assistance that they provide.
However, educators are not therapists. Neither are they psychiatrists.
The Reality Check
While all educators, including those like me who are no longer directly working in schools, would love to be able to provide students with all of the behavior and mental health supports that they need, the reality is that these services are not randomly available to students for very specific reasons.
1. It takes funding to incorporate specialized services into educational programs.
Highly qualified professionals need to be hired. Many schools have been pleading for budgetary increases to facilitate the establishment of site-based behavior and mental health supports not only for students but for families as well. In most cases, educational leaders are forced to locate alternate funding sources on their own to meet this critical need in their schools. They search for grants. They adjust their budgets by moving money around to establish partial programs. If there is no money, such services will not be provided to students.
2. Parents must be active members of their child’s educational team.
Even if schools have behavior and mental health programs available within their buildings, it is the parent who gives their permission for their child to receive the services. So, if a parent denies that their child needs help or if they simply refuse to give their official authorization, support will not be provided at school.
3. Schools need community partnerships that have the capacity to provide services to students and specialized assistance to the faculty.
They need partnerships to train the school staff with the implementation of the best practices to enable them to interact with students with behavior and mental health needs. In most cases, there is a cost associated with this support.
4. If services are to be provided to students and their families at school, a dedicated space that ensures confidentiality within the building is required.
So, as building administrators plan for the efficient and mandated use of the school space, especially if students receive special education services, space for therapeutic services must also be available.
People who believe that schools have to open must stop assuming that all schools are able and fully equipped to provide all of the behavior and mental health services to students.
This needs to stop being included in the argument.
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Dr. Deborah M. Vereen is a retired Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher, School Principal, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Assistant to the Superintendent for Family and Community Engagement, and Professor of Multicultural Education. Her website is www.Drdeborahmvereen.com and her YouTube Channel is called “Ignite Family Engagement with Dr. Deborah M. Vereen.” She is dedicating the rest of her life to serving as a Family Engagement Influencer.