The turbulent and stressful Covid-19 crisis has impacted mental health issues, including instances of suicidal thoughts among students who have had to deal with the trauma of trying to learn during the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic’s effects on student mental health are widespread and deeply concerning,” the Department of Education’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne B. Goldberg said according to a press release this week. “OCR (Office for Civil Rights) is committed to providing resources to support students with mental health disabilities, including those who may be at risk for self-harm.”
Students can suffer conditions including anxiety, depression and inability to concentrate, among other mental health disabilities.
To support students who may be experiencing those challenges, the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division released a fact sheet this week to to assist these students.
The fact sheet is called Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Students at Risk of Self-Harm in the Era of Covid-19
Schools and post-secondary institutions have a federal responsibility to protect students with mental health disabilities under civil rights laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, and are required to provide those students with equal opportunities to learn free from discrimination, the fact sheet says.
The fact sheet also offers examples for when the USDE or the DOJ might investigate a school for not meeting such responsibilities.
Here are some hypothetical situations involving the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that could lead to these agencies investigating an incident:
- A public school student has developed severe depression for the first time during the pandemic. Their parent tells the school principal…the principal does not refer the student for evaluation. Instead, the principal says that all students are struggling because of the pandemic and suggests that the parent should hire a private tutor and find a psychologist for the student.”
- “A university student who contracted Covid-19 last year has ‘long Covid’ with severe fatigue, joint pain, and an inability to concentrate, all of which have compounded her preexisting depression. While getting ready to register for classes, the student asked the university’s office for disability services for permission to take three instead of five courses and to attend these courses remotely, explaining that her fatigue would hinder her ability to commute and take a full course load. The university did not conduct an individualized assessment and refused to consider the request.”
- “Prolonged isolation and the stress of a close relative dying from Covid-19 exacerbate a college student’s depression, leading him to take a voluntary medical leave of absence from his college. When the student applies to return in the next semester, with a supporting letter from his therapist, the college does not conduct an individualized assessment and instead informs him that under the college’s policy, he must remain on leave for at least two semesters.”
- “A middle school student with autism has been experiencing bullying related to her disabilities by classmates at school. The student’s homeroom teacher has noticed the student seems depressed and withdrawn, and the student confides in the teacher that she can’t take it anymore and is considering ending her life. Instead of calling the student’s parents and contacting the school counselor, the teacher calls the school resource office, who handcuffs the student and takes her to the hospital.”
The fact sheet links to crisis hotlines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( 1-800-273-TALK), DeafLEAD (321-800-3323) which is available in American Sign Language for deaf or hard of hearing individuals, and The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis, who recently chaired the Florida Children & Youth Cabinet, pushed for mental health initiatives among Florida’s kids.
These initiatives involve addressing stigma associated with mental health concerns, developing curriculum to inspire resilience in collaboration with Florida athletes, and collecting data to determine most-promising prevention efforts of youth suicides focusing on mentorship.
Another one of her initiatives called Hope Ambassador work to create a more compassionate learning environment by encouraging students to be kind and help their peers.
In addition, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation declaring September 2021 as Suicide Prevention Month in Florida.
Casey DeSantis recently stepped down from the youth cabinet, according to an announcement made on Oct. 8, days after Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Her position was filled by Florida’s new and controversial State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo.
–Danielle J. Brown, The Florida Phoenix