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We need action on equity in Nevada education 

Wendell Blaylock
Wendell Blaylock
Sondra Cosgrove
Sondra Cosgrove
Opinion
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In response to the tragic 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Gov. Brian Sandoval formed a Statewide School Safety Task Force to create comprehensive solutions for school violence. The task force included educators, students, safety officers, community leaders, and mental and behavioral health professionals. The group’s final report made recommendations to improve school policing and physical structures, as well as increase the number of mental health, counseling, and social work specialists at each school.

In the 2019 legislative session, outgoing Gov. Sandoval submitted a bill, which became SB89, to implement the recommendations. Among other directives, the bill instructed school boards to create 15-year plans for meeting national standards for ratios of students to mental health specialists. The ratios exist to provide a sufficient base of support for teachers, administrators, and families.

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one school psychologist for every 500 students. Nevada has one school psychologist for every 2,087 students. Similarly, the American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. Nevada has one school counselor for every 477 students

In the spring of 2021, the Nevada Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  embarked on a study of the impact of remote learning on education equity. The committee heard from five panels of educators, students, community members, and education leaders and noted some recurring themes, including a growing student mental health crisis and the need to prioritize student support services highlighted in SB 89 and exacerbated by the pandemic. The report, therefore, included strong recommendations to address these issues now. 

Nevada, unfortunately, has not focused on mental and behavioral health workforce development, so we lack professionals to fill these positions. Most past legislative efforts have addressed issues of licensing reciprocity to quickly license professionals moving to our state. The scarcity of mental and behavioral health specialists is nationwide, however, so it has been impossible to recruit our way out of this dilemma. 

The committee’s report, therefore, rightly implores our system of higher education to prioritize training and degree programs in behavioral and mental health. Moreover, the training and programs cannot be tied to traditional two-year and four-year degree structures. We need stackable degrees that allow participants to begin working in the field in just one year, and skills certifications for current professionals who seek advancement.

The report adds to these mental and behavioral health recommendations, based on our pandemic experience, guidance to expand and strengthen the state’s broadband infrastructure. We currently lack sufficient mental and behavioral health specialists to place one of these valuable professionals physically in every school, but with strong broadband internet connectivity, telehealth will ensure that every school can access these vital services. 

To do this quickly, we must treat access to high-quality internet as a civil right. Families, education institutions, and our healthcare system cannot provide Nevadans with the resources needed to thrive without reliable devices and internet service. If you agree, please, let’s come together to finish the bipartisan work already begun.

Wendell Blaylock is the chair of the Nevada Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Sondra Cosgrove is the vice chair. The commission was established by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and is the only independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the president and Congress on civil rights and reporting annually on federal civil rights enforcement.

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