Marin grand jury focuses on mental health of students
By Adrian Rodriguez
Marin schools lack resources needed to support students suffering from mental health issues and the coronavirus pandemic could be making matters worse, according to the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
In a new report, “Reading, Writing, and Therapy: Mental Health Challenges in Our Schools,” the grand jury said educators “have shown great initiative and creativity to address the mental health needs of their students,” but they need assistance.
“There has never been enough money, and the COVID- 19 pandemic now threatens significant cuts in education funding,” the report says. “At the same time, the pandemic is increasing mental health issues for many of these students.”
The grand jury urges the Marin County Office of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to take the lead in tackling mental health with a communitysupported approach.
The Board of Supervisors earlier this year approved suicide prevention plan earlier this year. The three- to fiveyear initiative outlines seven strategies, including one that aims to foster safe and healthy environments at schools.
The grand jury recommends that strategy be implemented right away.
Mary Jane Burke, the county superintendent of schools, said the plan is being supported by the office of education and other groups. The effort to get the strategy into practice is underway.
“The ultimate goal is having safe and health environments for all schools in Marin County,” she said.
The grand jury is also recommending that educators employ full-time licensed therapists at schools; provide staffers who can connect their communities with outside mental health services; and expand teacher and staff training and parent education around mental health issues.
Between 2017 and 2019, there have been four Marin students known to have died by suicide, the report says. What’s more, a 2017 survey found that 13% of Marin high school juniors had “seriously considered suicide in the last year,” while another 35% “reported having chronic hopeless feelings in the same period.”
Hispanic students report higher levels of chronic sadness or hopeless feelings than White students, and Black and Hispanic students had attempted suicide at higher rates, the grand jury reported.
Students enduring these symptoms could be experiencing pressure to succeed and gain acceptance to universities, the report says. Others could be struggling with bullying, sexuality or substance abuse, or facing insecurities over housing, food and immigration status. There are also threats of school shootings, climate change, global con-
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flicts and the pandemic at play, the report says.
Part of the problem is school funding disparities, as the state formula dictates that schools with English learners, low-income students and foster youths are to receive a higher percentage of aid, the report says. Per-student funding is based on property tax receipts, parcel taxes, state aid and donations raised by school foundations.
Through 2023, the county has earmarked $570,000 a year for schoolbased health support and $220,000 a year to support newcomers — those who have arrived from Central America. Those funds will be focused in the Sausalito Marin City, Shoreline Unified, Novato and San Rafael school districts, the report says.
All school districts have access to one-on-one counseling. There are a mix of counselors who are licensed therapists, interns from graduate programs and those working to gain their license on various campuses throughout the county.
Burke said educators are considering opportunities to recruit and supervise mental health interns, but there are no plans now to hire full-time licensed therapists.
Students at some districts benefit from more robust access to professionals. Tamalpais Union High School District offers two therapists on each of the three campuses, but that model costs about $700,000 a year.
The Tam Union district has also been offering online counseling through the pandemic. School districts overall say they could use more therapists, the report says.
County schools offer a three-tiered support system to prevent behavior challenges, support students at risk of those challenges, and intervene for those with intensive or chronic challenges. The latter represents about 5% of the student population.
Jim Hogeboom, superintendent of San Rafael City Schools, said a collaborative approach between the county education office and other agencies “will yield the most favorable, long-term and sustainable efforts to provide access to mental health support for our students and greater community.”
“It is our belief that stable social-emotional wellbeing leads to greater academic achievement and overall sense of self, which in turn contribute to the SRCS district goals of building a climate of joy, equity and community,” he said.
The district is presenting its “equity blueprint plan,” which includes plans to grow its capacity to strengthen and maintain mental health support, to the Board of Education on Nov. 16, Hogeboom said.