Marin students suffering from post-pandemic trauma, anxiety or depression could get more professional help at school, if a new bill authored by Marin state Sen. Mike McGuire is approved by the state Legislature.
“Students in all corners of this state are struggling with pandemic-related mental health impacts,” McGuire said Tuesday. The Democrat serves as Senate majority leader.
“Young people have been through incredibly traumatic times the past two years and there is no doubt that we are seeing an increase in need related to students and their social-emotional well-being.”
If approved, Senate Bill 1229 would earmark $250 million from the state budget’s general fund to offer $25,000 training grants to 10,000 master’s-degree-level counselors in underserved school districts and communities throughout the state. McGuire said he expects the program to roll out over three to five years, starting this fall.
Counselors who receive the $25,000 are expected to commit to working at least two years in an underserved area or school district.
Marin school districts that might be top priority for receiving additional counselors from the grants include the Sausalito Marin City District, San Rafael City Schools and Novato Unified, McGuire said. All three districts have schools located in underserved communities, such as Marin City, the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael and parts of Novato.
The Sausalito Marin City District has a partnership with Marin Health and Human Services to provide grant funding for a fulltime social worker at the district’s school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, according to Itoco Garcia, the district’s superintendent.
“We also have two clinician interns on top of that position,” he said. He is hoping to add a second full-time counselor in the fall.
In West Marin, Shoreline Unified School District has a wellness team, a psychologist on call and a counselor in each school, but “we definitely have a need for more,” said Adam Jennings, superintendent of the rural 485-student district. In the past, the district was identified as having pockets of underserved students and families.
The state’s priority list for the $25,000 grants is based on a combination of staff shortages and an index of student anxiety and trauma. The latter is a database compiled by the state that measures whether the student populations have endured high levels of stress, trauma, anxiety or adverse childhood experiences — such as a parent going to prison, or a family member dying from gun violence.
McGuire said many people assumed that when children and youth left remote learning during the pandemic lockdowns to return to in-person instruction, that students would automatically recalibrate emotionally back to their former stability, friendships, academic proficiencies and outgoing natures. That has not happened, he said.
“There has never been a more critical time to increase the number of mental health counselors and social-emotional support in our schools than now, so kids are getting the help they need to thrive,” McGuire said.
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said 496 school sites around the state have been identified as either having little or no counseling staff or high levels of student anxiety and stress.
“Locally and across our state, schools are seeing the need for more mental health services and supports for our students,” Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools, said Tuesday. “This need was underfunded and understaffed even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need is even greater today.”
Thurmond said the state was tracking an “increase in the number of students experiencing depression, suicidal feelings or other mental health challenges.”
That problem, he said, is complicated by the state and the nation’s general workforce staff shortages, vacancies and retirements during the pandemic that have specifically hit sectors such as education and behavioral health.
“We are dealing with ongoing challenges in the state’s ability to provide a sufficient number of counselors to support student mental health needs,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond has already appointed a workgroup on addressing education sector workforce shortages. The workgroup is addressing compensation, training, and recruitment strategies to help offset education staffing shortages in a state that serves 6 million students, he said.