The Major Mental Health Bill

In addressing school safety this year the Legislature went with the “both/and” approach rather than “either/or.”  There were those who emphasized hardening our school facilities, providing a stronger law enforcement presence, adding more school marshals, and other such efforts. Others advocated an emphasis on mental health—addressing causes and conditions through prevention.  Fortunately, the Legislature did both. 

HB 18 is the major mental health bill.  Here are the highlights.

*Requires changes to the district improvement plan to address best practices on grief-informed and trauma-informed care; a comprehensive school counseling program; and an expansion of information about financial aid and college admission to elementary students and their parents.  We already required that information for parents of middle and high school students.

*Requires that teacher certification programs must include strategies for teaching and intervening with students with mental health conditions or substance abuse.  The law consistently lists substance abuse as a condition separate from a mental health condition, but equally significant.

*Requires that continuing education for teachers, principals and counselors must address serving students with mental health conditions or substance abuse. Staff development provided by schools may include these topics along with how grief and trauma affect student learning and behavior.

*Requires that TEA must maintain a website that provides resources for working with students who engage in substance abuse.  The law previously referred only to “mental health conditions.” This bill adds substance abuse as a separate category.

*The health curriculum must address mental health, substance abuse, managing emotions, maintaining positive relationships and responsible decision making. The TEKS must address the science, risk factors, causes, etc. of substance abuse. 

*Duties of the SHAC are spelled out (School Health Advisory Commission).

*Requires a school’s handbook and the district’s website to include a statement of the policies and procedures that promote physical and mental health of students, the resources available at each campus, contact information, and for each campus a statement of whether the campus has a full time nurse or full time counselor.

*Authorizes schools to employ or contract with a psychologist who is designated as a health-service provider, an RN with a master’s or doctorate in psychiatric nursing, a licensed clinical social worker, a professional counselor or a marriage and family therapist.  Such people are authorized to recommend that a child be evaluated by a physician or non-physician mental health professional

*Requires TEA to make available to schools coordinated health programs re: physical and mental health and substance abuse.

*Makes it clear that school boards can establish a school-based health center on a campus without a recommendation from a Health Education and Health Care Advisory Council.  OECS may do so also.  Such centers may provide services for physical and dental health, along with treatment for mental health conditions and substance abuse. 

*Authorizes charters to establish a Health Education and Health Care Advisory Council.  Traditional schools were already authorized.  The membership of these Councils is spelled out in the statute and will now require school counselors.

*Requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission to develop guidelines for schools to partner with local mental health and other service providers. 

*Requires school procedures to address how support will be provided to a student returning to school following hospitalization or residential treatment for a mental health condition or substance abuse, as well as suicide “prevention, intervention and postvention.”

That’s a lot!  It may take years before we can see an appreciable improvement in student mental health as a result of all of this emphasis and training, but HB 18 has set us on that path.  Let’s hope we make swift progress. 


Tomorrow:  Interested in medical marijuana????