• Christina Quintanilla-Muñoz, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2021 •
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated inequities within Texas’ public education system. While there are still many important steps that must be taken to ensure an appropriate response to those inequities, some bills passed during the 2021 legislature, including those related to access to student mental health resources, will take Texas schools in the right direction.
Senate Bill 179, by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., is a long-overdue win for student mental health advocates. The bill expands school counselors’ capacity to deliver critical counseling services to students. School districts must now adopt a policy that requires school counselors to spend at least 80% of their work time on actual counseling to support the academic and emotional needs of the students. SB 179 will significantly boost access to mental health services for students still grappling with mental and emotional health concerns from prolonged stress and social alienation brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic (Quintanilla-Muñoz, 2021).
House Bill 2287, by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, et al., will help the Collaborative Task Force on Public School Mental Health Services (established by the 86th Legislature) to monitor and maintain mental health resources. The bill authorizes collection of data from school districts, school staff and other entities to evaluate the impact of mental health programs and services on academic achievement, discipline and student well-being. HB 2287 outlines key stakeholders and experts the task force should consult. This collaboration will ensure students receive the most effective mental health support and will ensure that training for the delivery of mental health programs is informed, current and specialized for the school setting. Additionally, the bill institutes confidentiality measures to protect students’ privacy.
While the legislature demonstrated progress in addressing critical issues, such as the digital divide and student access to mental health services and resources, there were many missed opportunities to bridge widening equity gaps in students’ engagement at school.
Most notably, HB 4391, by Rep. James Talarico, would have uplifted student and community voice through district student-family engagement plans. IDRA’s long history of family engagement in education shows the need for these plans, particularly during and after the pandemic when in-person engagement opportunities were limited (Wilson, 2020).
HB 4091, also by Rep. Talarico, would have established a statewide student experience study to evaluate teacher effectiveness, campus culture and climate, post-graduate readiness, mental health, discipline and other key outcomes.
Efforts to ensure student mental and emotional health and to promote youth-adult partnership in education must continue in local communities and in subsequent legislative sessions, especially as schools and communities respond to COVID-19. Equitable and excellent schools for all students rely on accessible pathways for engagement and encourage positive relationships with students, community members and schools.
Quintanilla-Muñoz, C. (March 18, 2021). School Counselors Must Gain an Increased Capacity to Serve Students Directly – IDRA testimony for Senate Bill 179, presented before the Texas Senate Committee on Education. San Antonio: IDRA.
Wilson, T. (August 2020). Effective Education Reform During COVID-19 Requires Authentic Family Engagement. IDRA Newsletter.
Christina Quintanilla-Muñoz, M.Ed., is an IDRA Education Policy Fellow. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2021, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2021 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]