LAUSD's School Mental Health program offers support to students amid a pandemic. (High School Insider)
Cleveland Charter High School

Minds Matter: LAUSD and California legislation aim to support student well-being

The Los Angeles Unified School District and Gov. Gavin Newsom established policies to support student mental health.

LAUSD’s School Mental Health program offers professionals to work with students and uplift their well-beings. During a pandemic and campus closures, SMH extended its services with “telehealth technology,” giving students access to mental health services and Wellness Centers near their homes.

Gov. Newsom proposed a $5.3 million budget in January to hire more counselors for college campuses, according to EdSourceMental health affects students’ well beings, physical health, academic performance, energy levels, relationships and overall optimism, according to studies by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

“Many students suffer from panic attacks, sleep deprivation and/or mental health disorders as a result of the pressure they encounter trying to juggle school, extracurriculars and everything in between,” Bridget Weingart, a rising senior at Cleveland Charter High School said.

Newsom has expressed his intention to reshape California’s Mental Health Services Act, according to Politico. Newsom also approved legislation for later school start times that will go into effect in the 2022-2023 school year, according to EdSource.

LAUSD has also aimed to support mental health by printing the suicide hotline phone number on student ID cards. LAUSD also filed a lawsuit against e-cigarette company JUUL.

LAUSD, in an LAUSD anti-vaping press conference, emphasized that vaping has become an epidemic and has threatened the safety of close to 600,000 students in high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. 

At the press conference, Superintendent Austin Beautner said there’s a reported increase of violence, school absences, and more funds directed to anti-vaping awareness credited to the emergence of JUUL and its e-cigarettes. 

Dr. Olufunmilayo Obisesan of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, told Medical News Today that smoking has been connected with increased risks of developing depressive disorder. Yale Medicine has reported that the CDC has warned users of consequences of further lung diseases and Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, PhD, co-leader of the Yale Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science, reported that vaping can be detrimental to the development of teen brains. 

According to CNN Health, Newsom’s Senate Bill 328 will help decrease consequences of problems with attention and behavior and increased risks of obesity, hypertension, car accidents, diabetes, and thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Supposedly, later start times will allow students to gain more sleep and help gain sleep in the early morning hours which are needed. 

“An extra 30 minutes of sleep would make a huge difference on how tired I feel throughout the day. I’ve found that my general happiness and mental health correlates to the amount of sleep I get, so getting more sleep would be really beneficial to my psychological well being,” Weingart said.

Chloe DeLaura, a rising senior at Cleveland Charter High School, said the possibility of later school start times feels liberating. 

“Many students, like me, go to schools that are far away from where they live, so they have to take the school bus or public transportation, which requires students to wake up very early in order to catch it before it leaves…causing these students to be basically waking up at the crack of dawn every morning just to get to school.” 

Additionally, both LAUSD and Newsom have prioritized mental health through counselor services. With Newsom’s increased budget and Mental Health Student Services Act and LAUSD’s SMH and making the suicide hotline number accessible to students, there has been some action toward increasing accessibility of professional mental health services to those who need it. 

“I feel that by placing the suicide hotline number on school IDs, it helps make the school and the district feel better, but it never seems to be used,” DeLaura said.

Senate Bill 428would require the California Department of Education to identify a mental health training program for on-campus certified employees. When this was petitioned to Newsom, he denied signing the Bill on the basis that his Mental Health Student Service Act was sufficient in this field. 

“Some schools do not have access to mental health counselors, or if they do, it is not well known by students, not knowing that it is a good resource,” DeLaura said.

During the LAUSD teacher’s strike in 2019, one of the key points the UTLA fought for was a decrease in the student to counselor ratio, according to the L.A. Times. However, for the 2019-2020 school year, LAUSD deemed that the counselor ratio will remain the same as the 2018-2019 school year, approximately 690 to 890 students per counselor depending on the school. 

I’ve never met with the mental health counselor. There are way too many students and way too few counselors. I have not seen any improvements since the strike,” Weingart said.

Despite various projects aiming for student mental wellness, LAUSD students still see a need for more changes. 

While schools are hiring counselors for students’ mental wellness, there are many changes that need to be made,” Eunice Lee, a rising senior at Cleveland Charter High School said. “Racial literacy programs, gender literacy programs, among other social training would allow teachers to make their classrooms as welcoming as possible. It is difficult for students to thrive in an environment that is threatening to students.”