By John Meeks
With a $62 million budget deficit, our school district has been forced to make painfully difficult decisions, including ending middle school block scheduling and cutting schools’ faculty. Whatever our austerity, however, I hope that our school board commits to increased mental health services for our students – and even redoubles their efforts.
I know that naysayers would write off mental health services as superfluous to essential instruction. To them, I would say that mental illness should be taken as seriously as we insist on students being vaccinated.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of children with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment.
If public schools are to be held accountable for students’ learning gains and responsible for their safety, should they not be allowed to assist with handling obstacles to learning such as depression and anxiety?
Unlike our weekly school nurse visits where I can store a first aid kit in my file cabinet for students who may be injured four days out of the week, I do not have such easy means of attending to a student whose depression or anxiety is getting in the way of their learning while tending to classes with up to 30 students.
Having worked with children in the Beaches community for over 15 years, it is my hope that Elizabeth Andersen is elected to the Duval County School Board. I appreciate that she sees a connection between the mental health of our youth and preventing school violence.
There is nothing unprecedented in our approach to the issue. Public schools were a central front in the war against polio – a war that we won. Today’s battle to heal the minds of our children can also be won if we commit to it.