Throughout this session, I reflected on the experiences that spurred me to study social justice lawyering - my time as a teacher in a Title I school. While there were a variety of issues facing my school community, the lack of mental health support offered for students experiencing ongoing trauma was especially relevant to the discussion. A recent report has stated that the nation’s largest public schools have more police officers than counselors. The education organization called The 74 stated that the largest school systems are prioritizing security over mental health. New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago all fall within this category. Further, not one of the top ten school districts meets the recommendation by the American School Counselor Association of a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students.
Using the framework that was discussed at the EPOG social justice lawyering training, I narrowed down the barriers to getting more mental health staff into the school where I taught. Primarily, monetary constraints make it hard to put more staff into buildings where teacher to student ratios are already high. Further, behavioral problems often mask emotional needs. This is further exacerbated in districts where students’ basic needs of food, shelter, support and water are not being met and where they are witness to ongoing gun violence and drug abuse. It is easier to view behavioral issues as being solvable through discipline then needing to implement a mental health strategy. Finally, it is hard for many students to gain access to these critical services without receiving a 504 designation or meeting the criteria for an IEP plan. Both 504 and IEP plans are costly for districts and schools, so they are often reluctant to assign them.
An obvious solution to this problem is increasing specific funding for mental health support in schools. Yet, the training offered on social justice lawyering helped me think about the grassroots support that could provide the necessary motivation to stem this problem. A national organizing campaign protesting both the school-to-prison pipeline continuation, by having so many officers in schools, and simultaneously demanding a reallocation of funds to mental health support could address this problem. The social justice lawyering training helped me rethink a problem in education that had plagued me as an educator and is now getting critical national attention.
Posted By: Rachel Banks
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Photo Credit: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/06/16/report-too-many-indian-students-shoved-utahs-school-prison-pipeline-160727