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Flush With Aid, Most Districts Aren’t Spending On Mental Health Resources

 May 18, 2021 at 1:07 PM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 After more than a year of distance learning and social isolation from face-to-face interactions, more students are in need of emotional support and psychological help. The need was underscored when a San Marcos high school student died by suicide last month, the voice of San Diego's Kayla Jimenez reports, those schools are receiving millions in pandemic relief funds, not much is being spent on crisis counselors. She joins us now. Kayla welcome. Speaker 2: 00:27 Thanks for having me. So first Speaker 1: 00:29 Students at San Marcos high school are grappling with a lot after having lost a classmate. Do you have any sense of how they're coping right now and what resources are available to them Speaker 2: 00:40 Student? That some artists are definitely grappling with the loss of their classmate and the principal of San Marcos high school. Adam Johnson wrote a letter to parents. Um, last month at the death of the student, there was sure to raise a lot of emotions and concerns and questions for the school. And it definitely brought the mental health issue to the forefront. I know that the district is what met with students individually and advise parents to check in with their own children to see if there were any signs of them needing help and to be aware of the primary warning signs of child in crisis, Speaker 1: 01:18 Which brings us to this and your reporting of this story. You found that the San Marcos unified school district reported spending $2.5 million in aid on crisis counselors. But that wasn't exactly true. What did you find out? Speaker 2: 01:33 Yeah. In our reporting. And we've been looking into how school districts across the County have been spending their coronavirus relief funds. We found at first glance that San Marcos unified appeared to be an outlier on this front. Um, the district reported that it spent nearly 2.5 million of that funding on crisis counseling. But what I found is turns out that that money didn't go towards hiring any new support staff, specifically, um, the district spending the same amount of money that it did before the pandemic, they kind of just transferred funds. Another using coronavirus relief funds to pay for counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses, salaries, and benefits with that funding instead. Speaker 1: 02:15 And in your recent article, you said both the state and federal governments have encouraged districts to spend pandemic aid and other coronavirus funds on mental health services for students, but schools are given wide latitude in how they can spend it. Um, you say many have decided to spend it on existing employees, as you just pointed out, how many schools did you find are doing this? Speaker 2: 02:37 Yeah, so we found that most of San Diego County public schools, their first major way, but, um, COVID-19 19 funds last year to make huge investments in distance learning and, uh, staff funding, but opted to spend far less on things like crisis counseling. Um, there was a same trend among K-12 public schools statewide, but we did find that a lot of the regions largest district across the state spent more on crisis counseling. Then in San Diego County specifically, Speaker 1: 03:10 And a number of psychologists and counselors you spoke with are critical of this approach and, and how San Marcos unified and other districts are spending this money. What are they saying? Speaker 2: 03:21 And their insight was really helpful for this story. So I talked to local psychologists, counselors and staff from the County office of education. And they told me that students who are facing Betty and depression and issues with socialization right now really need that extra support. And they believe the additional counseling and psychological resources and social, emotional learning in the classroom as well can save kids from long lasting psychological effects of the pandemic. Speaker 1: 03:49 When you spoke with Dr. Mark Cinven, uh, a local psychiatrist for children and adolescents, what was his recommendation on how to help students deal with the lasting psychological impacts of this pandemic? And how does he think resources could be used to achieve that? Speaker 2: 04:04 He said that kids usually who had depression or anxiety before the pandemic are likely to be in a more, were worse place than they were. But he did say that to address those students that are having problems, that they should take the leap and partner with local nonprofits and behavioral health organizations to really address the need by using the temporary funding that they're getting from the state and federal government and that they should bring in therapists and nonprofits in the mental health space into schools to identify those early warning signs and intervene quickly before things get to be an emergency or a crisis. And I think one of the best things that he said that stood out was that schools might not be the best place for psychological intervention, but they're usually a place where families and students trust, um, teachers or counselors, and they're willing to bring those things up in the school setting, and then they can get more help that way. And psychological intervention is kind of bridging the gap for families there. Speaker 1: 05:02 San Marcos unified said about all of this and are they looking to change how they spend this pandemic? Yeah. Speaker 2: 05:08 Yeah. San Marcos, I think a lot of what was said in Adam Dawson's letter, um, to parents, so that the death of the student there was sure to raise a lot of questions for the entire school. And I think the school is still trying to figure out what they're going to do on spending. And it's definitely something that I'm watching, but we're going to wait to see how the districts decide to spend a lot of funding that they're getting from the stance that oral government in the coming months. Speaker 1: 05:33 I've been speaking with Kayla Jimenez, a reporter with voice of San Diego. She writes about communities, politics and regional issues in North County. Kayla, thanks for joining Speaker 2: 05:42 Us. If Speaker 1: 05:45 You are in crisis or know someone who may be suicidal, call San Diego counties free 24 hour access and crisis line at (888) 724-7240.

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After more than a year of distanced learning and social isolation from face to face interactions more students are in need of emotional support and psychological help. The need was underscored when an San Marcos High School Student died by suicide last month.
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