On Tuesday, a bill that would require the California Department of Education to create protocols for educators to address students mental health issues was introduced in the Assembly.
Assembly Bill 309, jointly authored by Assemblymen Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) and Patrick O’ Donnell (D-Long Beach), would, in addition to new protocols, have educators and others at the school level give input and help develop the protocols needed to identify and address student mental health concerns. The established mental health referral protocol would then be required to be posted on the CDOE website, as well as given to classroom teachers and school administrators.
Final implementation of the bill would be contingent on funds being allocated from the state budget, from federal funds, or from private funds.
Assemblymen Gabriel and O’Donnell wrote the bill to combat a growing number of students who have had mental health crises during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Assemblymen cited a study by the CDC showing that children and adolescents have had a sharp rise in emergency room visits due to mental health issues. Another cited CDC study also found suicide rates to be much higher for adolescents of a similar age group since the pandemic started. The rise of pandemic-caused mental health stresses have also led to many school districts reopening early to help alleviate the issue. And, as teachers and administrators are usually the first to see or notice such changes in behavior, AB 309 would give them direction on what to do about it.
“Like parents across California, I’m deeply concerned about the impact the pandemic has had on our kids’ mental health and emotional wellbeing,” Assemblyman Gabriel explained on Tuesday. “California already was facing a student mental health crisis, and there are concerning signs that the situation has gotten worse as a result of the social isolation and disruption of the past year. This important legislation will equip our teachers with better tools and resources so that they can help our students navigate these extremely challenging times. This will be especially important as we look to reopen our schools and bring students back into the classroom after months of distance learning.”
Assemblyman O’Donnell also gave his reasoning for AB 309.
“The mental health of California’s children and youth, already at a crisis point, is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Assemblyman O’Donnell said. “We are seeing ever-increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation among our young people. AB 309 will provide model protocols that will enable our teachers and other school staff to connect students with the help they need in an appropriate and timely way.”
Little opposition against AB 309
Both Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly have indicated support for the bill, with no current opposition against the bill being formed as of Tuesday.
“Early identification is key for mental health,” former school psychologist Deborah Schmidt explained to the Globe. “This piece of legislation helps that process move easier. If teachers know what to look for and know what to do next in getting them help, a cheap way in making it happen at that, then there is really no reason to oppose it.
“Students have been away from in-class studies for nearly a year now. They miss friends, miss that person-to-person teaching, and many are struggling to learn properly from home. When they get back, they are going to carry the mental health effects from this, so we need to be prepared. If this stops just one suicide, stops one student from harming themselves or others, or stops a student from doing something drastic as a way to deal with the mental health issue they developed, then it will all be worth it.
“That’s why you don’t see politicians opposing this.”
AB 309 will be heard in front of committees in the coming months.