Bill would mandate mental health instruction to Virginia students

A bill to integrate instruction in mental health to students in all grades in Virginia schools the Senate and is waiting to be heard in the House.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who represents a portion of Henrico, is co-patron of the bill that would update and expand legislation that passed last year which called for a mental health curriculum for students in grades nine and 10.

The bill, SB1440, passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday 40-0. McClellan thinks that bill will pass and become law because of the support the original bill had last year.

The Department of Education has been tasked with updating the Standards of Learning for Students to create a criterion for mental health education in schools

“Using an established review process and criteria, the Virginia Department of Education is in the process of reviewing of the current Health Standards of Learning according to a timeline that was presented to the state Board of Education in October,” Charles Pyle the DOE’s director of communication said. “The timeline calls for the presentation of a draft revision of the Health Education Standards of Learning in June 2019 and final approval by the Board of Education in August 2019.”

In producing this bill, McClellan drew data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which collects and routinely reports mental health data. The CDC found that that mental illnesses such as ADHD, behavior disorder, anxiety and depression can be diagnosed as early two years old, McClellan said.

“Kindergarteners and first graders are already affected—waiting until 9th grade is too late,” she said. “We are also working to de-stigmatize mental health. Kids need to know early on that they have a health issue and that they’re not weird—mental health is no different than having a peanut allergy.

SB1440 was referred to the Committee on Education in the House Thursday.