DENVER — The school year at East High has seen its ups and downs. A rollercoaster, as Colleen Eager calls it. Her daughter is a sophomore at the high school.
"There are so many great aspects to it. To see our kids thriving and trying so many new things they never would have tried," said Eager. " And then gut wrenching to get text after text, lockdown, lockout, lock in."
When the school board directed the district to bring back school resource officers in March, Eager was pleased to find out more mental health professionals would be coming with them. That hasn’t happened.
"They make directives that sound good without taking into consideration if they’re actually implementable and without even informing themselves of what’s going on on the ground," said Eager.
Now Denver Public Schools (DPS) says it already has more than enough social workers inside their classrooms. That directive to add more therapists and psychologists seems at odds with how the district says things are going.
In a nearly 50-page draft of a new safety plan released by DPS Superintendent Alex Morrero this afternoon, the district says it already has more than 400 school social workers and psychologists, “far exceeding” its "minimum expectation" of one for each of its 205 schools. DPS tells us they have 23 open positions right now for mental health care providers and are struggling to fill any more.
A spokesperson for DPS says nearly everyone who is qualified for the job already has a position by this time of year, making fulfilling the board's directive difficult. They are now offering a $2,000 signing bonus to make it more attractive. We asked the district if they feel the board's directive to add more mental health professionals is at odds with the current situation in schools but did not hear back.
Rob Gould is the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which represents DPS teachers. He says one therapist can be responsible for hundreds of students. For years the union has been fighting to increase wages and decrease the workload.
"Really, it’s a scarcity. There’s not very many of these individuals out there," said Gould. "Our students can’t get the care that they need. Our students can’t access the supports when they need them if they’re in a crisis situation."
The Colorado Education Association has also advocated for adding more mental health workers throughout the state, saying there has long been a shortage.
"Right now we are seeing all across the state a difficulty in hiring mental health professionals," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, Colorado Education Association president. "I know as a school counselor I was one person to 400 students. That’s a really big workload to handle."
Right now, people who are certified to work in this field through the State of Colorado must also become certified through the Colorado Department of Education to work in schools. There's a bill in the state legislature right now which would change that with the hope that more people could work in schools.
Parents were promised more mental health help. The board gave a directive that may have been impossible to fulfill. And now the district says it has more than enough help already. The rollercoaster continues.
"It can’t keep going the way it is and we’re not going to stop making our demands to the board," said Eager.
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