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Marin, CA: Superintendent calls for more mental health help for schools; system "at breaking point"

June 2, 2019, Marin (CA) Independent Journal: Marin Voice: Schools alone cannot address mental health crisis https://www.marinij.com/2019/06/02/marin-voice-schools-alone-cannot-address-mental-health-crisis/ By Jim Hogeboom, superintendent of the Novato Unified School District. Each year more is expected of our school system to support our students while we remain at 2008 funding levels. I recently wrote about our broken system of funding our schools, and how declining enrollment and the drastic increase in pension costs, which we have no control over, have caused many districts to enact severe budget cuts. This is particularly disheartening because the demands required of schools today are only increasing. In addition to the academic challenges, the physical and emotional safety of our students is in jeopardy. … Students are also facing a mental health crisis today that is unparalleled. In the past year, four Marin high school senior boys have taken their own lives, and at least a dozen other students have attempted to do so. This is a critical situation our children are facing, and we need to meet this challenge by providing more extensive mental health services, teaching social-emotional curriculum, providing more intensive behavior support, supporting our medically fragile students, holding more parent meetings, making counseling referrals, educating staff about signs of student trauma and depression and providing more interventions and support for students. Teachers, support staff and administrators are having to counsel students daily on coping skills and on developing appropriate social emotional competencies, something that we have not been trained to do but that has now become an absolute necessity. The world has changed radically since the turn of the century, and life is much more complicated now. …. But we are now at a breaking point for our system. When a system is faced with increasing demands and the resources to meet that demand are diminishing, this causes stress, anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Just as our students are overwhelmed in today’s world, our school staff is also feeling this same stress. When the very lives of our young people are at stake, and when our schools don’t have the resources to help them, what could be more stressful? As a result of all of this, we are faced with horrible choices. We must choose to divert significant funds from other important academic programs for students if we fund mental health services instead. We are working with the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and other community health organizations to see how we can cooperatively fund wellness centers in our high schools. Our community mental health professionals continue to help and volunteer as much as they can. The Marin County Office of Education is also providing us with assistance. But fundamental funding changes need to happen as well. … Until we all come together as a community, county and state to prioritize our resources to address the physical and emotional safety needs of our children, our system and our students will remain in crisis. Schools cannot meet this huge challenge alone.