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Student Mental Health Bill Advances In Kentucky Legislature

Nicole Erwin

In the wake of the January shooting at Marshall County High School, Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill that would require schools to employ mental health professionals to recognize symptoms of trauma in students.

Rep. Will Coursey, a Democrat from Symsonia whose district includes the high school, said the bill was “born out of tragedy.”

“But we firmly believe that if implemented, this piece of legislation would certainly spare us tragedy in the future,” Coursey said.

A sophomore at the high school in rural Benton has been accused of opening fire on classmates in a common area on January 23rd, killing two 15-year-olds and injuring 18 others.

House Bill 604 would require school districts to employ least one mental health professional for every 1,500 students. The counselors would have to be licensed to practice psychology, psychiatry, medicine, social work or other forms of counseling.

Lisa Willner, executive director of the Kentucky Psychological Association and a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said mental health professionals would work with students and train teachers and staff to reach out to students exhibiting signs of trauma.

“One of the goals would be for every child to have a sense of belonging, for every child to have a trusted adult that they can go to,” Willner said.

School districts would have to hire the mental health professionals in addition to — not instead of — school guidance counselors or school psychologists.

The Kentucky Department of Education would be in charge of developing recommendations for local school districts to develop their own “trauma informed” strategies.

Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars said he wished the proposal had been in place before the shooting.

“At least if we have some mental health professionals in the school systems, it would definitely be an advantage to maybe foresee something like that coming on,” Byars said.

The bill passed unanimously out of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee after it was changed to allow money from grants to help fund the initiative.

The bill will now be considered by the full House.

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