After the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, safety is at the top of a lot of people’s minds – especially in schools.
Thousands of South Florida students head back to school this week. Classes resume Monday in Palm Beach County. Broward and Monroe counties start on Wednesday while Miami-Dade students get another week of summer vacation.
It’s also the second school year since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The state has required that schools upgrade security since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act became law shortly after the shooting.
Schools have another requirement this year. In July, the Department of Education voted to mandate that at least five hours of mental health be integrated into the curriculum for all middle and high school students attending Florida public schools.
The goal is to get adolescents to learn about signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and how to get help for themselves and someone else in crisis.
On the South Florida Roundup, host Caitie Switalski spoke with education reporters Colleen Wright with The Miami Herald and Sonja Isger with The Palm Beach Post on how school districts are approaching the mental health education mandate.
Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:
CAITIE SWITALSKI: There's a lot of people who feel like this is really overdue. Why has mandating mental health education taken so long?
COLLEEN WRIGHT: There are a lot of mandates in education when it comes to testing and certification. Sadly it took a tragedy like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to bring this to the forefront. Why it took over a year? I'm not sure.
To go into that mandate a little bit, there aren't a lot of specifics. [Miami-Dade Schools] Superintendent [Alberto] Carvahlo told me that they did get some guidance from the Department of Education. All they've pretty much said is that, it has to be taught by a teacher with a certification in any subject. That that could be anything. That could be physical education, that could be health, that could be math, that could be science.
Sonja, what is Palm Beach doing about curriculum for this? Have they purchased a curriculum yet?
SONJA ISGER: They've not purchased a specific curriculum as soon as this rule came out. I'm told that they started reviewing what they did already have in place, like Colleen said, there's a lot of this that's taught in P.E. or it's taught in science class. It's even touched on in middle school and high school literature [class]. When students are trying to identify with the character and what is the character is thinking. That sort of thing.
But now that the state is saying you're going to have to document that you have five hours for every student. And in each of those grades they are still trying to figure it out. They have to put something out there for the students this school year, so they think it will look something like five hours in one place. They just don't know where.
According to an email statement, Broward County Public Schools has "qualified staff" to develop a curriculum that meets the state's mental health education requirement. If the district needs to purchase a curriculum or other materials, it will submit a plan to the school board for review and approval.