For Immediate Release
Mental health issues are ‘significant threat to public education’
FRANKFORT, KY (February 9, 2023) – Education leaders from across Kentucky met with the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council on Feb. 9 to highlight the challenges and opportunities within Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.
Dr. Jim Flynn, executive director of Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS), said the mental health issues facing public school students and staff are an urgent, pressing need.
“The unmet needs of our most vulnerable children constitute a significant threat to public education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Dr. Flynn said. “Kentucky school districts are not equipped to serve students with severe behavioral, psychiatric, and/or violent behaviors.”
Schools across the Commonwealth are reeling from the impact of those challenges, he added: difficulty retaining and recruiting certified teachers, administrators and classified employees such as bus drivers, bus monitors, and instructional assistants; a decrease in student attendance as parents hesitate to send children to school; overall loss of instructional time for the general student population; lack of public confidence for a safe and healthy school culture; and a school safety crisis for students and employees.
“We know these issues are complex, but we cannot put a price on the life of a child,” Flynn said. “We must work together to find solutions.”
Education leaders recommended several changes in state law that would ensure students receive the support they need, and improve the safety of school campuses, including:
- Increasing the number of both short-term and long-term mental health facilities for youth;
- Allowing local boards of education the option to educate students who have made threats of or displayed acts of violence within the school community to be educated through alternative placement services within district programming, including virtual, smaller learning environments, and other alternative programming.
- Increasing placement options for local judges; and
- Revisiting the Kentucky Expulsion law allowing local boards of education to expel students for a period longer than one year, with virtual services.
Brian Bowland, director of Pupil Personnel for McCracken County Public Schools, also offered common sense options for diversion of students in public schools, to provide earlier interventions for students in need.
The issues facing students are universal throughout Kentucky, and transcend district size and urban/ rural geographies, according to Dr. Carrie Ballinger, superintendent of Rockcastle County Schools.
“Public schools are not equipped to deal with the severe behavior issues we’re seeing,” she said. “We’re not equipped to deal with the psychiatric and violent behaviors that we’re seeing. It’s not for lack of trying because we’re giving it everything. We have to try to serve our kids. We need more support.”
Todd Hazel, director of Student Services for Warren County Public Schools, said his district has an average of two staff members assaulted by students either verbally or physically on a weekly basis, and an average of two threats of school violence per week by a student, either in person or through technology.
“Warren County Public Schools has a process in place to address these threats through referrals,” he said, “but law enforcement is limited in what they can do, and consequences are nominal.”