RICHMOND, Va. — A new report from the ACLU shows schools in almost every state are falling short of recommended standards for the number of counselors in schools.
The American and Virginia School Counselor Associations recommend one counselor per every 250 students.
The report Cops and No Counselors shows 86 percent of Virginia students go to schools that don’t meet this recommendation, that’s a little more than 1,100,000 students. The study shows students are also interacting more with police and school resource officers. The data was collected from the U.S. Department of Education from 2015 to 2016.
“Historically, states have invested in law enforcement or school resource officers, ” Ashley Everette, a policy analyst with Voices for Virginia’s Children said. “What’s really lacking is an investment in important, though, is an investment in important mental health services and mental health providers within schools because schools are where children typically are.”
So, is Virginia doing enough to help students?
Providing more mental health support in the classroom was a major focus of the General Assembly session. Many of the ideas formed from the House Select Committee on School Safety, which came together after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fl
Gov. Ralph Northam signed off on HB1729, which requires counselors to spend 80 percent of their day working with students. Lawmakers and advocates saw a need for this change because counselors weren’t doing enough counseling.
“They’re spending a lot of time doing administrative tasks and doing things like testing instead of spending the majority of their time providing mental health services,” Everette added.“There aren’t enough of them.”
Another bill, HB2053 increases the counselor to high school student ratio from 1 to 350 to 1 to 325. There’s $12 million set aside in the budget to cover the costs, hiring about 250 more counselors across the Commonwealth. This still needs to be approved by the Governor.
SROs aren’t out of the picture either. Other legislation sets aside funding so they can get more training to better interact in schools and with young people.
When asked what more could be done to help students, Bill Farrar from the ACLU of Virginia said the focus should be on letting schools handle the disciplinary process, not police or school resource officers.
Several bills were introduced bills that would have limited criminal charges for students misbehaving. Bills filed in both the House and Senate would have prohibited students from being found guilty of disorderly conduct in school, a charge that could carry jail time. All of these efforts didn’t make it out of committee.
A piece of legislation that failed to gain enough support would have required courses on mental health issues during health classes in all grade levels. Everette says more work does need to be done to bring more mental health resources to students, emphasizing the value counselors play in young people’s lives.
“They develop healthy relationships and bonds with the school counselors,” she said. “They are part of their everyday life of children in the schools.”