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Standing united for student health and school safety

17WEA_United_360px_transparentHealthy students and safe schools are a top WEA priority for the 2019 legislative session.

We urge the Washington Legislature and Gov. Inslee to fund additional counselors, psychologists, nurses, therapists, social workers and other mental health services for all students in every public school.

In the Spring of 2018, WEA leadership and Gov. Inslee convened a series of community meetings focused on student health and school safety.

Students, teachers, administrators and others met in different parts of the state. In small groups, they discussed their fears, concerns and needs around school safety and their own health.

“The focus of the school safety meetings was the health and safety of educators and students, not improvements to building security,” says the executive summary of the meetings.

Their observations helped shape WEA’s 2019 legislative priorities.

Here are key findings from the school safety meetings:

  • Educators and students are needed around the decision-making table; their experiences help highlight effective preventative measures that lead to reducing school violence and improving health and safety at school.

  • School communities (e.g. educators and students) are expressing undeniable signs of stress and anxiety around school violence. Educators and students say their learning environment is hurt by the ongoing need to cope with the worry and stress of potential violence at school.

  • Some students aren’t enjoying school; educators see visible signs of depression and stress, which increases the number of students at risk for violence. One student said, “I’m torn between two thoughts: safety is always at the back of my mind, and yet I think it’s never going to happen at my school.”

  • There is little-to-no progress reducing mental health stigma, coupled with a growing need for students to use mental health services.

  • Large class sizes and the lack of trained mental health staff in schools are barriers to meeting the social and emotional needs of students.

Two answers were consistent across all of the meetings:

  • Students and educators are fearful of violence on a regular basis even without a history of threats or violence on their campus.

  • While educators are working hard on keeping schools safer, they don’t have the resources they need to reduce the risks or to be safe when violence occurs.

Some of the participants’ concerns and recommendations about gun safety were addressed in Initiative 1639, which Washington voters approved by almost 60 percent in November 2018. The WEA Board of Directors supported the initiative. The NRA has filed a lawsuit challenging Initiative 1639.

Separately, a Mass Shootings Work Group met over the summer and also issued a set of recommendations. One key recommendation from the group: Increased investment in K-12 school counselors, psychologists, mental health professionals, family engagement coordinators, school social workers and other programs that help create a positive school climate, including restorative discipline. WEA strongly supports these investments and is advocating for them as part of our 2019 legislative priorities.

11/21/18