An audit that sampled 20 school districts found they did not provide mental health training to all staff for the 2020-21 school year by Sept. 15, as required by New York State Education Department (SED) regulations, according to a new report issued by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Eighteen of 20 districts (90%) either did not offer mental health training or provided training that lacked some or all the recommended components, including how to access crisis support and recognizing warning signs such as obsessive compulsive, psychotic, and eating disorders.
“School personnel are often the first to notice if a student is having mental health challenges, and they need effective training to help them understand the signs and symptoms early on,” DiNapoli said. “Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for students, staff, families and communities. Unfortunately, my office has found much of this vital training is not taking place. School districts should follow SED guidance so everyone from the superintendent to the substitute teacher is properly trained to identify problems. Our nation is facing a mental health crisis, and we need to help our students.”
The New York Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE Act) was introduced to help improve school safety. It requires school districts to develop a comprehensive, district-wide school safety plan that addresses crisis intervention, emergency responses and management. The safety plan developed by each district must include policies and procedures for annual safety training for staff and students, among other things. Based on SED guidance, at a minimum, staff should be trained on the mental health components recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) addressing “what educators should know.” School districts must also certify to the SED Commissioner that all staff have undergone the training, which must contain a component on mental health, and the date the training was provided.
Of the 20 districts audited outside of New York City, which were randomly selected and have varying enrollment sizes, DiNapoli’s auditors found just two, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Canandaigua City, offered training with all 12 HHS-suggested mental health components. Six districts (30%) did not offer training that included any of the 12 components. The remaining 12 districts (60%) offered trainings that included at least one but not all the components.
The report also found:
- The most common component included within the training materials at the districts (13 districts) was “Whom to Turn to.”
- Only seven of the districts provided guidance on how to access crisis support.
- “Trauma and stress-related disorders” was the most addressed warning sign in trainings offered in 11 of the districts.
Of the 14 districts that offered training that included at least one recommended mental health component, five maintained records supporting which staff attended the training. The other nine did not. At the five districts, auditors found 162 staff (51%) completed the mental health training by Sept. 15, 2020; the other 158 staff (49%) did not. The staff who didn’t complete the training by the required date included teachers, assistants, aides, substitutes, coaches, nurses, principals, assistant principals, superintendents, counselors, and bus drivers.
District officials provided varied explanations for why the components were not included in training content provided to district staff, including a lack of awareness of suggestions by HHS, a lack of clear guidance from SED on the required SAVE training, and mental health training at some districts was provided throughout the year, instead of by Sept. 15, as required. Most district officials told auditors that the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to focus their attention on returning students to school safely for in-person training which impacted the school’s ability to provide timely mental health training.
DiNapoli said it’s imperative that staff be provided on-time training on warning signs that may be an early indicator of mental health issues and concerns.
List of 20 School Districts
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake
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