By Robert Kittle
While South Carolina lawmakers talk about whether to put an armed school resource officer in every public school and whether to allow teachers to get concealed weapons permits and carry guns to school, Rep. Jerry Govan wants to start a different discussion about protecting school children.
He's introduced a bill that would require every public school in the state to have a full-time school psychologist on staff. "I don't have any type of illusion that this is not costly or that we can afford it, but I think it's important that we start the dialogue," he says.
He says after hearing that the school shooter in Newtown, Connecticut and theater shooter in Aurora, Colorado had mental health problems, he wanted to do something that could identify problems early in students and provide them with counseling. "I think it could very well save lives," he says. "I think it stands a better chance of saving lives than arming teachers in schools. I mean, I think this is a far better option in the long run for us, because it can address a lot of other issues as well."
He doesn't know how much it would cost, but says the state needs to make school safety a priority and find the money.
Lynn Collins, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, says, "We're all for improving mental health services, and the more mental health personnel we can have in the school, whether it be school psychologists or mental health counselors or clinical social workers, anything that we can do to provide more early intervention services and prevention services for the students we would definitely be in favor of."
She says the problem will be a lack of school psychologists. There are about 1,200 public schools in the state and only about 550 school psychologists now. The state has trouble filling the vacancies it has now for school psychologists, so more than doubling their number would be difficult.
Rep. Govan says, "Can we provide a psychologist in every school? More than likely no, but we can have that debate and I'm willing to be open to a discussion in terms of where and how many."
According to the SC Association of School Psychologists, they "develop interventions for struggling learners, identify the unique learning needs of students who are not making progress" and consult with teachers about students who are having behavior issues that slow down their progress or disrupt classes.
Collins says of what school psychologists do, "It might be a behavior intervention that we do in the classroom. It might be individual counseling. It might be running some social skills groups with the students. It might be some group counseling. It might also be doing some counseling or some sessions with the family as a whole. It's not always just with the student. A lot of time it's consultation with the teachers and the faculty."