LINCOLN – Senator Lynne Walz introduced a bill in the Education Committee this week that would seek to provide the public school system with the tools to identify and assist students struggling with mental health issues.
The bill, LB727, would require the Department of Education, in consultation with the state Department of Health and Human Services, to provide school districts with a registry of state and local mental health resources for students and families by geographic area.
The bill would require the registry to be updated at least once a year and include both school-based services and outside services. Walz said the Nebraska Family Helpline at Boys Town already produces and updates such a registry through a contract with DHHS.
LB727 would also require each school district to designate one or more mental health points of contact for each school building or other division as determined by the district. The point of contact could be an administrator, school nurse, school psychologist or other designated school employee.
Each point of contact would be trained in mental health issue identification and would have knowledge of local service providers and other resources. The point of contact would facilitate access to mental health services during the school day “whenever possible.”
The bill would require each school district to report its designated mental health points of contact to the state Department of Education before the beginning of each school year.
Walz said schools are the best place to identify children who need mental health support and to connect those children and their families with the services they need.
“Having an individual at a school who can identify warning signs and point someone in the right direction is necessary to help schools provide the most conducive learning environment possible,” she said.
Stacie Higgins, president-elect of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, testified in support of the bill on behalf of the NASB, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and the Nebraska State Education Association. She said student access to mental health care is a growing problem for schools of every size across the state.
LB727 and its coordination of resources would be a “huge benefit” to schools as they help students deal with the death of a parent, violence in the home, an eating disorder or other mental health issue, Higgins said.
“Many would argue that it’s not the school’s job to be the one to find that care for students,” she said, “but when the issues present themselves at school, impact their learning and the learning of those around them, it becomes something that the schools need to address.”
Jack Moles, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, also testified in support. School districts need guidance and resources to help students with mental health problems, he said, but the association is concerned that the bill would provide no funding for districts to carry out its requirements.
“Normally we would be in opposition to a bill that did not provide for funding,” Moles said, “but this is just too important of an issue to us to be in opposition because of that.”
Lee Todd of Lincoln testified in opposition to LB727, saying it would violate parental rights and waste money. He said parents have primary responsibility for caring for their children, not schools. Institutions such as churches also can help if parents choose not to, he added.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.