Mental health classes could soon be required in Virginia schools

A new bill created to address mental health in the classroom is making its way through the Virginia General Assembly.

While Republicans and Democrats don’t always see eye to eye, this legislation has bipartisan support.

The bill would require students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to take a mental health class.

FOX 5 spoke with residents about it and a majority believe it would be helpful.

"We’ve had people that have struggled with mental health in my own family, so personally I think it would be really beneficial to have that for all children," said one mother.

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Virginia’s Board of Education would have to consult with mental health experts and develop curriculum guidelines that would be used to create the classes. After that, the board would submit the recommendations to the state board of health for approval.

Some people FOX 5 spoke to were hesitant and wanted to make sure the class is taught properly. 

"I mean it just depends on how they go about educating the kids on mental health," one woman said. 

ALEXANDRIA, VA - FEBRUARY 10: Sixth grade students start their general science class each day with five minutes of meditation at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, VA, on Monday, February 10, 2020. Desiree McNutt and Elkin Rodriguez, gene

"Seems like it’d be great for kids to understand these things in case somebody in the class has an issue or something. They would have more understanding and less preconceived notions," a father FOX 5 spoke to said. 

The courses would include explaining mental health and wellness, recognizing symptoms of common mental health challenges, and promoting the importance of overcoming common mental health stigmas.

The legislation passed the senate with a 39 to 1 vote and now the House of Delegates is considering it.

Senator Amanda Chase is the only one who voted against the bill, saying she was concerned it would give students negative ideas that they didn’t have before learning about mental health.

Psychotherapist Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith views the proposed bill as a positive.

"A lot of kids might not learn these things at home and the school is an excellent place for them to get a foundation on the basics of mental health, physical health, nutrition, relationships, and all kinds of subjects they deal with in life – regardless of what they end up doing," Gadhia-Smith said. 

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If this legislation passes, it would go into effect in the 2024-2025 school year.

FOX 5 did reach out to school districts in Virginia to see if they like the idea and while most stated they are not able to comment on pending legislation, Loudoun County Public Schools and Alexandria County Public Schools sent us statements. 

Statement from ACPS Chief of Student Services and Equity Dr. Marcia Jackson:

ACPS addresses students' mental health and well-being through a multi-tiered system of support that includes having a team of mental health professionals that include school counselors, social workers, and psychologists in every school. In the fall of 2019, ACPS began to pilot the RULER curriculum focused on students' social-emotional learning. In the fall of 2021, all ACPS schools continued with the implementation of RULER and staff were trained on the delivery of the curriculum in classrooms division-wide. Currently, all ACPS schools have time embedded into the school day to support our social emotional and academic learning (SEAL) work with students. This time allows students and staff to recognize emotions in oneself and others, understand the causes and consequences of emotions, label emotions with developmentally appropriate vocabulary and express emotions in accordance with cultural norms and social context in alignment with the RULER curriculum.

Daniel Smith, Loudoun County Public Schools, said:

"I would like to point out LCPS has a comprehensive approach to addressing mental health and various related topics across all levels and is leading this important work across the state. The Departments of Instruction and Student Services each have responsibilities in these areas and LCPS is committed to providing resources, such as substance use prevention and intervention services to our students and families, especially during these uncertain times. Those who misuse alcohol or other drugs, are especially vulnerable. Increased isolation, stress, and other COVID-19 related life changes can lead to an increase in the use of substances. Now more than ever, we want to make sure our students have access to these services."