FRANKFORT -- A bill recently introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives would require mental health professionals to be hired for every 1,500 students in a school district.
House Bill 604 would require mental health professionals, which includes a physician licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy, a psychiatrist licensed to practice medicine, a psychologist, a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, a licensed clinical social worker or a professional counselor credentialed under KRS 335.500.
According to the bill, each mental health professional would provide training, guidance and assistance to administrators, teachers and staff on recognizing symptoms of trauma in student, utilizing interventions to support learning needs of those students and implementing a district trauma-informed approach plan.
The bill states the professionals must be hired in addition to, and not in place of, school guidance counselors or school psychologists.
"By Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of Education shall make available a toolkit that includes guidance, strategies, behavioral interventions, practices, and techniques to assist all local school districts in developing a trauma-informed approach in their schools," the bill said.
The bill was filed by Rep. Will Coursey, whose district includes Marshall County.
Coursey said he filed the bill because he wanted to make sure students facing a traumatic even had access to professional care and because of the impact the January school shooting in Marshall County had on him and his constituents.
"I have heard from many guidance counselors who say they have so many career-development and testing requirements that they just don’t have the resources and time to do what this bill will do," he said. "The school shooting in my district in January also weighed heavily on my mind when I decided to file this bill. My hope is this plan will create a more welcoming environment in our schools and we can better serve students who may be struggling with issues that hinder their studies and normal development."
Several superintendents said, while they understand the need for mental health professionals in the districts, they are concerned about being able to fund such a mandate.
"Clearly we have had a greater need for mental health professionals," Mason County Schools Superintendent Rick Ross said. "We've had a rather high increase in the need. That being said, is this an unfunded mandate? I support the idea of better mental health care, but will there be funding attached?"
Augusta Independent School Superintendent Lisa McCane expressed similar concerns.
"The more prepared and proactive schools can be to provide resources and mental health professionals, the better," she said. "My concern with this bill is if it will be an unfunded mandate."