- Both teachers and superintendents say student mental health and behavioral concerns are more urgent now than before the pandemic, but schools are lacking resources to properly address the issues, according to two surveys released Thursday by EAB, an education research and consulting firm.
- While a large majority of superintendents (81%) agree student behavioral concerns have deepened since the pandemic and an even greater portion (92%) indicate the student mental health crisis is worse than in 2019, most (79%) also say they don't have the staff to focus on the problem, a survey of almost 200 superintendents in 37 states found. Nearly two-thirds of superintendents (63%) cited budget concerns as another barrier.
- In a separate survey of 1,109 teachers, administrators and student support staff, 84% said students are developmentally behind in self-regulation and relationship building compared to pre-pandemic levels and that incidents of physical violence have more than doubled since COVID-19. But almost 60% said pressure to boost academic outcomes leaves them with little time to address the situation.
The surveys follow the release of troubling data earlier this week showing record high levels of teenage girls facing violence and other trauma, with 3 in 5 teenage girls saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. Nearly 1 in 3 seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the data from the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention.
In light of that report, the CDC said school-based activities "can make a profound difference in the lives of teens with a relatively small infusion of support to schools.” Kathleen Ehtier, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, called out schools in a statement for having the "unique ability" to help youth.
However, the EAB findings suggest school leaders need more resources to make that happen.
“EAB’s survey of superintendents showed that while most feel more confident and energized than they did a year ago, persistent funding concerns and staffing headaches have led many district leaders to question whether making progress on their priorities is possible in today’s environment,” said Ben Court, EAB senior director of K-12 research, in a statement.
“The top priority for those who choose to stay and persevere must be to create a safe, supportive environment where teachers and students are able to do their best work,” Court said.
While teachers have always had to respond to the behavioral needs of their students, those needs are changing, said Jeff Schuler, superintendent of Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, Illinois. "It causes you to kind of need to rebalance that support or training you provide for teachers," he added.
Schuler said that his district has been able to invest in student mental health support using federal relief dollars, including adding emotional wellness coordinators to every middle and high school who teachers can rely on as a point of contact. However, he anticipates the local budget will eventually have to absorb those costs.
"We're going to have to work to make sure that there's space for it in the budget, and it's a priority," said Schuler. That requires providing data to the school board on the need for and impact of student mental health investments and ensuring the community understands why such investments are important.
Nationally, concern over students' mental health — and a lack of school funding to address the problem — is on the radar of both lawmakers and policymakers.
In his State of the Union speech Feb. 7, President Joe Biden reiterated his push to improve mental health care in schools.
And on Feb.16, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy plan to attend a youth mental health town hall with high schoolers from Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools. They expect to discuss the issue and "amplify the urgent need for resources to address the mental health crisis," according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Education.
The department also announced Thursday the release of $188 million from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to 170 grantees in more than 30 states. The federal funding is meant to increase access to school-based mental health services and strengthen the pipeline of mental health professionals in high-needs districts.