Supervisors Get Update on Schools’ Mental Health Teams

Five months ago, Loudoun County first introduced mental health teams to some of its schools with a goal of placing similar teams at every public middle and high school in the county.

Checking in halfway through the school year, John Lody, the division’s director of diagnostic and prevention services, said the effort was been time and money well spent. Coupled with a national program called Sources of Strength, students are learning how to help one another cope with all that life throws at them long before suicide becomes an option.

“This is a way to build better connections and actually identify and build sources of strength,” Lody said. “This is very much an upstream approach to prevent future problems.”

He gave the report to the Joint Board of Supervisors/School Board Committee meeting Wednesday. He told the supervisors and School Board members that one-fifth of Loudoun County students have a mental health condition and more than half of them never receive treatment. “So by de facto, schools often become the support for these students,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to be prepared to acknowledge the social and emotional needs of our students.”

One of those is the creation of mental health teams, made up of psychologists, social workers, school counselors, and student assistance specialists. Right now, 10 out of the county’s 15 high schools and two of the 16 middle schools have mental health teams, and the goal is to have them in every secondary school by next year.

Every high school now has an assigned psychologist and social worker, and the counselor-to-student ratio has been lowered from 350 students to one, to 300 students to one.

Lody also pointed to a seminar series that reached 815 parents, 97 percent of whom said the training provided them with new information. It covered topics such as building resiliency in teens, how to use restorative language to build family relationships, and general suicide prevention.

Lody’s staff is also working with the Ryan Bartel Foundation to establish Sources of Strength programs at every Loudoun County middle and high school. They identify five to 10 adults at every school to provide guidance, support and mentorship to students who run the program. They also identify about 50 students who are representative of the various cliques and groups in the school community.

“They work together to spread hope, health and strength through natural one-on-one actions, classroom presentations during Advisory, and large school wide campaigns and activities that are meant to resonate and reach all students,” Lody said.

During the meeting, Superintendent Eric Williams also gave the supervisors—who determine the tax rate each year—a heads up that he and the School Board are asking for more money to expand the mental health teams into every one of the middle schools. The School Board’s budget dedicates $3.2 million to hire a total of 17 more school counselors, seven more social workers, and seven more psychologists.

Lody’s presentation had a critic among the supervisors.

County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), who is a mental health therapist who focuses on substance abuse, said it was clear the schools take mental health concerns among their students seriously, but the presentation didn’t make it clear what they’re doing to combat it. She particularly had a problem with the PowerPoint presentation, which she said was not written with the general public in mind.

It touched on three tiers of support for students: one that provides preventative social-emotional support to all students; a second tier that provides students identified as needing more support with group counseling and classroom instruction; and a third tier for fewer students that provides individual counseling, with potentially referring students to mental health professional outside of the schools.

“You are not going to find anyone who wants more mental health support in the schools than I do,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand the crisis in our schools—the suicides, mental health issues, substance abuse. If we’re going to campaign and fight hard for these positions, we have to be as clear as possible so we can justify the cost.”

“Right now, the presentation does not do that,” she added. “You all are doing so much more than your slides indicate.”

Williams said that she, and the rest of the supervisors, will be provided more details as part of the School Board’s budget presentation, which took place after the joint committee meeting. And his staff is continuing to work on getting more feedback about the mental health teams, which they will share with the public.

“Part of our continued progress is to get that data,” he said, “but the initial snapshot is very positive.”

Lody’s presentation noted that, in a survey to staff members at schools that have the mental health teams, 99.3 percent said it is beneficial to have a full-time school psychologist and a full-time social worker on campus, which is a first for Loudoun’s high schools.

dnadler@loudounnow.com

3 thoughts on “Supervisors Get Update on Schools’ Mental Health Teams

  • 2018-02-10 at 6:27 pm
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    They have presented information to 815 parents? It makes me feel a bit better that Chairwoman Randall finds the information needs improvement, because I’m one of the parents that was in the audience of 400+ people at the September & November Loudoun Education Alliance for Parents (LEAP) meeting that provided this same feedback then. We had so many questions that are still not answered, so it’s no wonder people are nervous about LCPS and the mental health team that turned away offers from parent volunteers to help explain LCPS services in ways that are easy for parents and citizens to understand. By declining free expertise in making simple infographics and creating accessible resources that can be available online 24/7, they’ve missed an opportunity to reach tens of thousands instead of 815. LEAP has a great mental health subcommittee with connections and resources that exceed what LCPS can do alone. I hope LCPS can get past the road blocks to collaboration with parent groups and mental health expert volunteers and save more lives.

    • 2018-02-11 at 6:40 pm
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      “I hope LCPS can get past the road blocks to collaboration with parent groups and mental health expert volunteers and save more lives.” I have that same hope, but it seems that they are much more focused on the reputation of the school system than they are the lives of individual students.

      I have to admit, when I started reading this article, I was about to give up hope myself until I saw what was said about Phyllis Randall. I’m not sure who John Lody is or who he reports to, but what I have seen is that LCPS does a great job with their marketing fluff when it comes to the topic of mental health, but they do not discuss what is actually happening within the schools. They also seem to attempt to hide the information perhaps because they think that the more people who hear it, the more people who’ll speak up and call them out for the fluff that it is.

      If I just moved into this county and had no experience with how students are treated who are dealing with depression and anxiety and I read some positive quotes from school officials, I’d probably think that this is so wonderful that they are hiring so many mental health professionals to take care of children in schools, but I know better. I’ve seenhow students are treated when they get an illness like mono or strep or a concussion and they are down and out for a long period of time. I’ve seen what happens when they get depression or anxiety from the amount of schoolwork they receive when they get back to school and I know how that workload (and possible low grades that they aren’t used to) increases the depression.

      Phyllis Randall sees through this fluff. Let’s get down to the real questions: what happens right now when a student is depressed and can not get out of bed or is hospitalized because of depression? How is it handled at each high school? Is it different for each school? Is it different for each student? Why are we hiring more mental health professionals within schools? How will this help the student having suicidal thoughts TODAY? When a student who is depressed or even at high risk for suicide brings in a doctors note that says that they can not take tests yet, what happens? When a parent requests that each teacher is told about this doctor’s note and asks for confirmation that each teacher will not give their child a test that counts for a grade, what happens?

      What I’ve seen and heard from many others is that the process is similar to when a parent is requesting an IEP for a student. The student is assigned four to five people to a “team”that will review the students information. The team is all asked a series of questions about the student and if any ONE person on that team feels that the student does not need special assistance, that’s it. Case over. The student is expected to get back to class.

      If you were that student or that family who was told that the “special team” assigned to your child just OVERRODE the medical note from your child’s doctor and now your child is expected to go to class as if they were not ill and/or not having suicidal thoughts, would you be happy that the school system’s answer is TO HIRE MORE MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS WITHIN THE SCHOOLS? Really? Does that mean that the team will have more people? Is that the answer? What about what my child’s therapist is saying and the doctor’s in the mental health facility?

      If anyone reading this thinks that these children are being lazy or that their parents are trying to get them special treatment, just imagine if your child had any illness that caused them to be home for a period of time (concussion, mono, car accident, strep, flu) and when they came back to school, they simply couldn’t catch up. If you were treated like a number and your phone calls fell on deaf ears, would that cause your child to get really upset and depressed very quickly? Now imagine that they are in ninth, tenth or eleventh grade and their GPA had fallen so much in the past year that they had thought of giving up.

      What could you do to help them if your school system’s answer was to hire more people who could decide that there is nothing wrong with your child? (By the way, I believe this “team” can override any medical note, even a chronic illness note).

      So…thank you Phyllis Randall for asking real questions!

      What is really happening? If you want to hire some new people to be assigned to a team within the school to take a look at the mental state of my child, can you first ask me if he has a doctor and if I prefer to go by what that doctor has stated about the mental health instead of choosing to use your team of mental health professionals to decide the mental state of my child and thus the way he or she will be treated when they walk in your door?

      Can someone please first take a look at our current policies and CHANGE them so that they help kids right now who are having suicidal thoughts are not forced to leave your school if the school’s mental health “team”decides that they are just fine?

      Phyllis Randall, I’m praying that you’ll demand these answers and make the changes that need to be made today to save our children’s lives. You’re in this high position for so many reasons, but I’m hopeful that you see this as one of your priorities right now.

      • 2018-02-11 at 10:43 pm
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        Yes – thank you Phyllis Randall for asking real questions. PLEASE also ask the following, “Dear Superintendent and school board, when you received information that parents had audiotape of IEPs meetings and other meetings that confirm what citizens like Connor are experiencing, did you investigate? What about the letters you received about the principal who still believes in looking the
        other way when families tell him employees at the school are inappropriate with kids, and has no interest in ensuring a safe environment for kids who return to school after a mental trauma? You forwarded the complaints to the LCPS lawyers months ago, and are you also going to assign an independent investigator to see if he is at it again?”

        This lack of accountability around student safety in schools may be why kids are dying or attempting suicide, families are moving to neighboring counties, and businesses are leaving (or not coming). It may be why we are called hillbillies on national TV. Our supervisors have difficult jobs in difficult times and we appreciate them AND I hope they will see this as one of their priorities now, too.

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