In case you missed it, columnist Ned Barnett has a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in response to the latest mass school shooting. After explaining the absurdity and futility of the idea that we can arm our way to safety, Barnett acknowledges that the current General Assembly won’t do anything about limiting access to guns. But, he says, at least we can do something — namely, hiring enough counselors and psychologists to make areal difference. Here’s the conclusion:
“We need to improve the awareness of and response to students who may be prone to striking out against their teachers and other students. The teachers who rallied last week asked for more money for school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. The ranks of those workers have been reduced by cuts in state funding.
Mark Jewel, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the legislature can help teachers “not by arming us with guns but by arming us with the support personnel who can help us with the emotional needs of our children.”
In terms of school nurses, there is one for every 1,086 students in North Carolina. The state’s recommended level is one for every 750 students. State legislative staff estimates it would cost an additional $45 million to attain that ratio. Fifty eight percent of schools do not have a full-time health professional on campus. It would cost an additional $79 million to ensure every school has a nurse.
The recommended ratio of school psychologists to students is 1 to 700. In North Carolina, the ratio is 1 to 2,100. Some rural counties do not have a single school psychologist.
School counselors, previously called guidance counselors, are also in short supply: 1 to 386 students when the recommended ratio is 1 to 250.
Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed spending for school safety that includes $40 million to go toward hiring more counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses, and $15 million for new programs to address students’ mental health challenges. In April, a state legislative subcommittee adopted a report recommending that the state increase the number of school support personnel but did not include funding levels.
Schools need more people attuned to the physical, emotional and mental health of students. They can rescue a child from distress and perhaps spare a school from heartbreak. If state legislators are worried enough about gun violence that they need metal detectors at the Legislative Building, they ought to also provide schools with more mental stress detectors.”
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