Back to school: Mental Health education now required by Virginia law

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — When Hampton Roads students return to their classrooms next week, they’ll be learning about mental health as part of their health and physical education courses. 

Virginia and New York are the first two states to require mental health education in public schools.

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This kind of curriculum is not new in the Commonwealth, but now lawmakers are mandating the Virginia Board of Education update it for 9th and 10th grade students.

“There’s so many misperceptions we need to correct them and one way to do that is start early and often talking about this issue in schools,” said Tyler Corson, PhD, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) Virginia Beach chapter. 

NAMI is one of the organizations state legislators are requiring that school leaders consult.

Corson pictures pink ribbons and red dresses — the symbols of breast cancer and heart disease we all know. She says knowing signs of mental illness is also imperative for people to get help.

“I think it can also influence how we treat people who have mental health issues,” she explained.

Mental illness affects a lot of people, with one in five teens living with a condition that needs treatment.

Educators see it all the time, too.

“I always tell people we are a microcosm of our society, and I think if we look around we see that there are just more and more challenging behaviors in our community,” said Dr. Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Spence told 10 On Your Side Virginia Beach schools are adding four behavior interventionists this year.

“These are people who, when a child is dealing with some significant mental health issues, can go in, work with them, work with the teacher and work with their family to try to redirect that behavior,” Spence said.

That addresses what’s happening in classrooms immediately, while the state works on the long-term of mental health education.  Right now, there is no timeline for the revised standards to be implemented.

Staff with the Virginia Department of Education is in the process of developing recommendations on revisions to the standards for presentation to the board of education.

This includes establishing a timeline covering the development of draft revised standards, the gathering of public comment and final approval by the state board.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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