SAINT PAUL – A group of state lawmakers, students, educators, a police chief and mental health experts all gathered at the State Capitol Monday for a common purpose: to strengthen school-based support for students struggling with mental health.
“There is a significant urgency to us addressing this issue. Youth mental health struggles became very real for my family when my son’s friend took his own life. This is something no friend, classmate, teacher, neighbor, or family member should have to go through,” said Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL – Shoreview), chief author of two key pieces of student mental health legislation in the House. “We can’t solve the problem overnight, but we’ve identified shortcomings we’re able to remove right now to help students access the support they need for a strong social and emotional wellbeing.”
Chief Brian Podany of the Blaine Police Department noted six students in the Blaine area have taken their lives this school year alone.
“Our youth are under a greater amount of stress than virtually any time in history,” Chief Podany said. “Mental health challenges are rising at an alarming rate and we need to come together collectively to support our youth. Rep. Moller’s proposed legislation is an important part of this effort and I hope lawmakers will support it.”
Currently, only teachers in licensure Tiers 3 and 4 – the most experienced teachers – are required to receive suicide prevention training upon renewal of their license. Under HF 3001/SF 3236, this requirement would expand to all classroom teachers to help them more effectively understand key warning signs of mental illness, learn suicide prevention best practices, and over the long-term, develop a more in-depth understanding of trauma. Additionally, the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) would be charged with developing training standards.
“As a former teacher, principal and coach, I’ve seen kids struggle with mental health issues and the lack of resources and training for teachers to deal with these issues in our schools,” said bill author Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL – Apple Valley). “These bills are a great step forward in training teachers on what to look for and how to deal with mental health issues.”
Another bill lawmakers and community members are advocating for is HF 3219/SF 3069 which would create the position of Director of Comprehensive Mental Health Services within the Minnesota Department of Education to share high-level mental health guidance with districts. The individual appointed would develop and disseminate evidence-based resources, tools, and practices to school districts across the state, and implement a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to suicide prevention.
“Many students are struggling with issues related to their mental health. We are failing to provide the strong support they need and deserve,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL – Maplewood), bill author and DFL-lead on the Senate E-12 Education Committee. “We need to step up and give them more support for positive interventions they need to thrive—not just in the classroom, but in the rest of their lives. This is a step in the right direction, and would provide tremendous value to our students throughout Minnesota.”
Both bills will be considered at a public hearing of the House Education Policy Committee Tuesday evening. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building. In the Senate, action is pending in the E-12 Education Committee.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and provides free and confidential support for people in distress with prevention and crisis resources. In Minnesota, help is available via the Crisis Text Line by texting “MN” to 741741.