Bill to incorporate mental health education into curriculum held in committee as Department of Education calls for changes to measure
On Thursday, all members of the Education and Workforce Development Committee backed a bill that adds mental health education to school health programs under current law, but the VI Ministry of Education says it cannot support the legislation in its current form and therefore Bill No 34-0086 has been held in committee at the call of the President.
Department of Education Asst. Commissioner Victor Somme III said during his testimony that while the bill as proposed presents an excellent opportunity to begin the comprehensive work needed to address the mental health needs of young people in the Virgin Islands, the Department of Education recommends that key mental health agencies, such as the VI Department of Health and the VI Department of Social Services take the lead on legislation as the Department of Education, he said, is not not the mental health expert.
“It’s important to recognize that not all school personnel are designed to engage in mental wellness…” he said.
Mr. Somme said that in order to develop good school health programs, the ministry will “collaborate with all parties” while sharing expertise from the ministry’s “position of strength” and follow the advice and recommendations of professionals who are responsible for developing mental health programs. .”
“Thus, the VI Ministry of Education appreciates the effort of Bill No. 34-0086, but cannot support the bill in its current form,” Mr. Somme said in explaining the rationale for the reluctance of the Ministry of Education to support the legislation. .
However, in her testimony, psychologist Lori Thompson of Insight Psychological Services, LLC described the legislation as a welcome first step for young people in the territory. Many discussions took place between committee members and the assistant commissioner before the sponsor of the bill explained the purpose of the measure.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Milton Potter, explained that the intention of the bill is not to overburden teachers. He said the number one priority should be what is in the best interests of the territory’s children.
The bill provides for mental health education and instruction that includes age-appropriate model learning activities for students. It recommends that students engage in activities that focus on the principles of mental health, learning activities that develop student mental health well-being, social connections and supportive relationships, among other principles that encompass the mental health components of national health education standards.
“Our children are suffering in silence when it comes to mental health issues,” Potter said while pointing out why the bill was deliberately not very program specific.
“I don’t think we’re the experts here… when we put together the bill, it wasn’t done in a vacuum. We had meetings with many experts…we heard some of their concerns and made adjustments accordingly. We don’t tell education how to develop its curriculum,” Potter explained.
Potter says too many young people in the territory fall through the cracks “because they’re just sitting there, they’re not disruptive, they’re just sitting there and we all know that in our school systems once you behave quietly, you are moved; the focus is on those people who are disruptive,” he said.