On May 9, 2022, a task force, comprised of 15 community leaders, referred to as the C.L.I.M.A.T.E. Task Force (Convening Leaders in Maximizing Access to Education), presented recommendations to the staff of the School District of Indian River County (SDIRC), FL to ensure equity and excellence in each of its schools. Their recommendation of the highest priority was mental health.
It has been written here that there was some pushback to the task force’s recommendation from school board member Jackie Rosario, who, while acknowledging the board had not reviewed the task force’s data, questioned how 15 task force members could write recommendations without surveying parents and a student body of 17,400. “Where did you get this data from parents? Was an email or survey sent out? If you only looked at academic data, how do we know there is a mental health issue?” (Emphasis added).
“The data is there,” says Angela Guzenski, Chief Operating Officer of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Indian River County, FL.
The MHA conducts a School Violence and Suicide Prevention Program School in all sixth and ninth grades within the School District. The Program is an evidence-based, depression awareness and suicide prevention curriculum for SDIRC students based on the Ericka’s Lighthouse Model.
Ericka’s Lighthouse provides suite of programs designed to allow educators to empower their students with an introduction to mental health, depression-literacy, help-seeking and what it takes to promote good mental health.
The Substance Awareness Center of Indian River County also provides the didactic portion of Erika’s Lighthouse in the schools with their other programming.
Here is data provided to us by MHA with 2021-2022 statistics of their impact in seven SDIRC schools.
|IRCHS: the program delivered to 685 students; and 27 were seen by MHA staff (4%)|
|Sebastian River Middle: the program delivered to 243 students; and 45 were seen by MHA staff (18.5%)|
|Storm Grove Middle: the program was delivered to 282 students and 44 students were seen by MHA staff (15.6%)|
|Oslo Middle School: the program was delivered to 275 students and 50 students were seen by MHA staff (18%)|
|Gifford Middle School: the program was delivered to 143 students and 20 students were seen by MHA staff (14%)|
|VBHS Freshman Learning Center: the program was delivered to 543 students and 32 students were seen by MHA staff. (5%)|
|Sebastian River High School: the program was delivered to 403 students and 36 students were seen by MHA staff. (9%)|
Of these seven schools, the program was delivered to 2,574 students (those expressing an interest) and 254 of those were referred to and seen by MHA staff. (An average of 36 students referred to and seen for the seven schools).
St. Lucie Public Schools (SLPS), in our neighboring county, takes mental health seriously, currently employing 20 School Psychologists for services to all traditional and charter schools within its district, including its FAU research school. The National Association of School Psychologists recommendation for school psychologists is 1:500-700 students.
In Indian River County, according to MHA, there are 11 school psychologists with a 1:1360 student ratio.
According to the SLPS website:
- Approximately one in six school-aged children experiences impairments in his or her life functioning due to a diagnosable mental health disorder.
- An estimated 70% of children have experienced some type of physical or emotional trauma.
- Most mental illnesses emerge in childhood, yet fewer than half of the children receive treatment.
- Only one third of young people with mental illness advance to postsecondary education.
- More than 60% of children in juvenile detention have a diagnosable mental illness.
Recommendations to prioritize mental health and wellness are not something new just because of COVID-19 and mandated safety protocols. Historical trends have elevated the need for mental health and wellness.
In 2009, the Institute of Medicine compiled a report that recommended local and state governments develop a system to increase access to resources for students for the prevention and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
One study, published in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders in 2014, found that pediatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder doubled between 1995 and 2014.
In 2007, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that pediatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder “has increased by 40 times over the past decade.” Rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increased 5 percent each year from 2003 to 2011.
An Iowa 2015 Fact Sheet listed suicide as the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24.
According to Mental Health America, “In 2019, 16.5 percent of US children were estimated to have at least one mental health disorder, and the rates of adolescents who experienced persistent sadness or considered suicide both rose substantially from 10 years prior. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified these decade-long trends.”
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has identified a dramatic upward trend in adolescent suicide in recent years.
This month, Yahoo reported that New York will become the first state in the U.S. to require all schools to incorporate mental health education into their curriculum.
In Indian River County, a local group focused on parental rights, Moms for Liberty, while now recognizing the recommendation to make mental health a priority, is essentially blaming the recommendation on previous school board mandated COVID-19 protocols.
According to Ms. Pippin, Moms for Liberty CEO: “I am amazed at how NOW mental health is an issue, we’ve been saying that for TWO YEARS. Shutting down schools, masking children, social distancing, excessive quarantining of healthy children and the COVID-19 protocols that WE TOLD YOU were negatively affecting children were disregarded.”
The data is there.
Should Ms. Rosario and others disregard the data and advocate for a questionnaire, would the Board need to approve it? Who would administer it?
Who will pick the questions? Will the District buy a template from SurveyPro.com or create their own questions from a site such as questionpro.com, who advertises “Top Ten Mental Health Questions?
The questionnaire will require legal and mental health review and adhere to all HIPPA guidelines.
How will parents be notified the survey is being sent out and why and by whom?
How will results be tabulated and who will tabulate them? What will the district do with the results?
And how will the district satisfy the dubious Bob Webster (who refers to our publication as a “worthless news source”), that the data is real-time or three months out of date?
Who will do all this, rather than relying on the data? Are schools themselves qualified to put so much on the line with a questionnaire?
It is though the only need for questionnaire is to prove our situation here defies the data and the reason mental health has risen to be top of mind, is strictly because COVID-19 happened and the school board subsequently mandated protocols.
Believe in the data and move on to address it.
Ms. Rosario said on May 9, “We are data driven.”