State Board of Education, districts must adopt mental health policy under new law

Gov. Roy Cooper

The State Board of Education must adopt a school-based mental health policy under Senate Bill 476, signed into law Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The law also requires school districts to adopt and implement a plan that includes a mental health training program for staff and the development of a suicide risk referral protocol.

“The mental health of our students has never been more important, and this legislation encourages that support,” Cooper said in a statement. “We still need to invest more in school nurses and counselors.”

School counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses expect students to return to schools in mid-August needing more of their services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Cooper to close school buildings in March.

School districts across the nation shifted to remote learning in response to the contagious and deadly coronavirus that has claimed more than 113,000 lives in the U.S.

The mental health policy adopted by the state must include minimum requirements for a school-based mental health policy for K-12 schools in addition to a training program and a suicide risk referral protocol.

The training must cover the following topics:

  • Youth mental health
  • Suicide prevention
  • Substance abuse
  • Sexual abuse prevention
  • Sex trafficking prevention
  • Teenage dating violence

Suicide prevention training is required of school personnel who work with students in grades 6-12. They must learn to identify students at risk of suicide and procedures to refer them to mental health professionals.

The law has no funding attached.

Bill co-sponsor Deanna Ballard, (R-Wataugua), said last month that the SBE and districts have flexibility in how they provide training.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, (R-Guilford), warned then that the law will impose an unfunded mandate on school districts.

“That cost will not be minimum,” Tillman said. “When you undertake training of this nature and this magnitude, there will be quite a bit of cost, which is an unfunded mandate on the school boards unless we can find some COVID-19 money to help with this.”

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