Del. proposed bills would improve mental/physical health for elementary students

DOVER, Del. –  Mental health is topic that may be often overlooked in the school system. But in the first state, legislators are making sure it’s at the top of their priority list for the Board of Education.

“You can’t expect a child to learn unless you deal with their mental illness,” Representative Valerie Longhurst says and that’s why she created House Bill 100. A bill that would allow them to add more counselors, social workers, and psychologists to elementary schools.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five youth are affected by a mental health disorder. These untreated mental illness can increase risks for homlessness, substance abuse, and possible suicide. To prevent this from happening, this bill would target students at a young age.

“The earlier that we can help children with us their feelings to health care professionals the better,” Senator Ernesto Lopez tells us, as Cape Henlopen School District is in his district.

Longhurst says some schools don’t even have counselors and across the state, the rate of counselors to students is 1 in 500. Longhurst says, “I’m moving the ratio from 1 to 500 to 1 to 250 so teachers have more access to counselors to help the children.”

According to Capital School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Dan Shelton, adding permanent counselors to help children every single day is crucial for the learning process. “This is our first year with licensed social workers, every school has one assigned but it’s not full time. Having someone there all the time to be able to be there when a crisis comes or a student has a need is critically important,” Dr. Shelton tells us.

But adding a counselor to every single school can come with a price tag. “The price tag is about $25 million and I may not get all that money but it’s a first step, sometimes you need to take baby steps to get to the bigger step,” Longhurst states.

There’s also another bill helping with mental and physical wellbeing.

House Bill 101 sponsored by Representative Kim Williams would require high-needs elementary public and charter schools to have school-based health centers. The state would pay the start-up costs for two centers per year until each qualifying school has a center. These wellness centers would take early intervention and that could range from mental health care to reading help.

HB 100 is set to have hearing in the education committee next Wednesday and then it will go to appropriations after.

HB 101 is also set for a committee hearing.

Categories: Delaware, Education, Local News