Student mental health high on list for district, State
By Lloyd Call
MANTI—Student mental health was a major topic at the South Sanpete School District board meeting last Wednesday.
The district now has more funding available for mental health resources with the passage of HB373 by the Utah Legislature.
As previously reported, the district was able to hire a second school nurse this year, and has also hired Kyle Parry as the district restorative justice coordinator. This program is designed to give schools more options than sending a problem student into the juvenile justice system.
Resource officers in schools also serve an important safety role, because students feel confident they can safely turn to an officer during a physical or emotional crisis.
Next year, if funds are available, the district may be able to hire a clinical social worker and/or a psychologist.
“Statewide, including our district, everyone is justly concerned about student safety, and increasingly, that includes the mental health of students,” said Kent Larsen, district superintendent.
Last year’s SafeUT report showed the number of incidents reported in the district, as well as statistics from the whole state. The SafeUT app is designed for parents, teachers, or students who witness or have concerns about a student’s safety. Users can send in a tip or institute a chat immediately with support personnel.
The top five categories of actions that were reported last year in elementary schools are: bullying, suicide, cutting, depression and acts of kindness; for middle schools: bullying, suicide, depression, cutting and drugs; for high schools: suicide, drugs, bullying depression and cutting. (See chart for details.)
“Anyone who witnesses a student struggling can quickly send out a tip for help. Professionals are on duty 24 hours a day. Chats are especially effective, especially if a student is considering suicide,” said Larsen. “It makes a huge difference if a student in crisis can talk to someone immediately, and that is what these professionals are trained for.
“Studies show that most suicides occur within 15 minutes from the time the student first develops a plan. Guns are the highest used method, so for this reason, parents are reminded that gun owners should always keep their firearms locked and secure from students.”
Larsen also reported that progress is being made to prevent suicides. In the state, suicides overall are down 10 to 14 percent this year, with 23 percent fewer suicides among students. “Looking at the chart, Gunnison Valley High School has lower incidents reported by SafeUT. It is possible the lower numbers there reflects that their speak out campaign is having good results,” he said.
The district reviewed the summer capital investment projects, including replacing floors and walls with better materials, roofing improvements, plumbing repairs, environmental controls and cement and paving repairs throughout the district.
Most, but not all, will be completed in time for school. For example, the replacement of the HVAC system at Manti High School will be done in two weekends, to make sure of its completion before cold weather could complicate the repairs.
The board discussed whether laptops would be better than iPads, especially for students planning on moving on to college upon graduation. “Laptops would cost about twice what the iPads do, but have more capabilities,” Larsen said. “If we did consider this, we would choose Macbooks over Chromepads, because they are more reliable.” Some parents have suggested the district look at getting laptops, but the board decided to stay with iPads for the present.
David Warren, the board member who was elected to be the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) delegate, and Gary Olson, another board member, attended the USBA delegate assembly. “We have more strength with the legislature when we have a common voice,” said board member David Warren. “We are asking the legislature for a 6 percent increase in weighted pupil average, which is vital to us.”
The state constitution says that education’s main funding will come from income taxes, and the district and USBA agrees that funding should remain secure. However, as soon as the legislative session is adjourned, the joint committee begins preparing for next year’s session, and there is talk about modifying the constitution.
“We are willing to sit down with the legislature and discuss our priorities. We believe the founding fathers set up our constitution to protect education funding, and we think that should not be threatened,” Warren said.
The next board meeting will be Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. at the Gunnison Valley Elementary School.