Gov. JB Pritzker signs legislation aimed at improving way IL schools address student trauma

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, August 6, 2023
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On Thursday, Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation aimed at improving the way Illinois schools address student trauma.

That includes a school report card that will provide information on how many counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists are in each school, starting in October 2024.

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Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law that seeks to ensure enough nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists are at Illinois schools.

Experts say schools should have one psychologist for every 500 students. But as a state House committee heard last month, that ratio is much higher in Illinois.

"When a school psychologist is the only school psychologist for a large number of students, often the role becomes very narrow. And they spend a lot of time responding just to crises rather than providing health promotion and early intervention and the services that they would want to and are trained to provide," said Dr. Brenda Huber, co-chair of Governmental Affairs for the Illinois School Psychologists Association.

And, she said, it's a "two-pronged problem."

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"In the state of Illinois, school psychologists have been the most underproduced educational professionals for quite a few years now. So the problem pre-existed COVID, but, since COVID, we have seen the mental health needs of youth just explode," Huber said. "Schools operate on a public health model, which means what we do for all the students should be enough for 85% to do well. And during COVID, we weren't able to do all of those things that we do at tier one or these universal interventions that we provide to all students. And so, students began to deteriorate. And since COVID, there are so many students that came back who already had diagnosable conditions, but it's been very, very difficult for school psychologists and other school support personnel now to provide those early intervention and prevention services. And so, a number of students are just declining because they're not getting what they normally would have received."

The result, Huber said, is that they're seeing a lot of students in crisis.

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 2

Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law that seeks to ensure enough nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists are at Illinois schools.

Another issue is the number of school nurses in Illinois.

Eileen Moss is a teaching assistant professor and director of the UIC School Nurse Certificate program.

She said school nurses see students with "...illnesses, injuries, chronic health conditions and mental health needs. And according to the CDC, more than 40% of school age children and adolescents have at least one chronic health condition." Those include, asthma, life-threatening food allergies, epilepsy and diabetes.

"These students need an emergency healthcare plan and a healthcare professional to deliver that emergency care. Nurses choose to work in the school setting for multiple reasons, but they may leave within a year or so because of the pay," Moss said. "They also feel undervalued. I suspect that feeling comes from their misunderstood role trying to work as a health professional in the educational setting."

She said to attract more people, school nurses should be paid at least as much as teachers and get closer to what they're paid in a clinical setting.