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US schools adding MORE school counselors to meet mental health needs

June 6, 2019, Education Drive: With growing calls for more mental health services, states tackle school counselor caseloads A 250-to-1 ratio is recommended, but it's much higher in many states — Arizona peaks at 905-to-1. And funds aren't always available to help lower the numbers. "Bare bones" and "random acts of guidance" is how Kathy Pelzer described counseling services in the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) in California when she was hired in 2014. "It was all about just reacting to the issues," said Pelzer, whose caseload at Capistrano Valley High School was over 2,300 students. Then the district hired 30 counselors — one for each elementary and middle school and two at each high school…. "Now, we are able to be proactive. We are able to put in place programs that are based on students' needs," said Pelzer, a past School Counselor of the Year for California. "It’s remarkable what can happen with just a couple more counselors on staff."… Now, after more than a year of discussion and recommendations from multiple state and national-level groups about increasing school-based mental health services, a few more state legislatures have taken specific steps to reduce counselors’ caseloads. “There has been more activity when it comes to discussing school counseling services — in terms of prevention and early intervention — in the broad school safety conversation since Parkland,” said Amanda Fitzgerald, the director of public policy for ASCA. Several large school safety packages, introduced in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February 2018 and subsequent acts of school violence, have included “a few sentences” about counselors spending more time on students’ needs and less time on paperwork, she said…. Pennsylvania is another state focusing on student support services. Its House Education Committee is considering legislation that would set ratios for counselors at 250-to-1. … That’s the case in Virginia, where lawmakers passed legislation to bring ratios closer to the ASCA’s recommendation, but the state budget doesn't include funds for those positions…. The increase in school counselors across California — a 28% increase between 2004-05 and 2014-15 — was not the result of a mandate. Instead, Loretta Whitson, executive director of the California Association of School Counselors (CASC), can track those changes back to 2012 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed Senate Bill 1458, which broadened the education accountability system to include more than test scores. Championed by then-Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat and now the mayor of Sacramento, the law emphasizes college and career readiness and dropout prevention, and it paved the way for the California School Dashboard to include measures such as chronic absenteeism, suspensions and graduation rates….


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