In Virginia, school-based mental health services are provided primarily by school mental health providers: school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers. Their capacity to offer mental health services depends greatly on the needs of the school division, their responsibilities within the LEA, and ratios of provider-to-student populations. The Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13:2 delineates staffing ratios for school counselors based on student enrollment through Virginia’s Standards of Quality. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) continues to advocate for reduced staffing ratios for school based mental health professionals. Prior to 2021, there were no minimum staffing requirements for school psychologists and school social workers. The Virginia General Assembly has shown support for providing more qualified school mental health providers in LEAs:
- On April 9, 2020 two bills were signed (SB880 and HB1508), lowering the school counselor-to-student ratio to 1:325.
- In 2021, Senate Bill 1257 was passed and requires each school board to provide at least three specialized student support positions, including school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, licensed behavior analysts, licensed assistant behavior analysts, and other licensed health and behavioral positions, per 1,000 students.
There is an urgent need for school mental health professionals to provide prevention and intervention services to address youth suicide, alcohol and substance use, and school climate. In Virginia, school-based mental health services are provided primarily by school mental health providers. There are no minimum staffing requirements for school psychologists and school social workers defined in Virginia Standards of Quality. Consequently, there is great variability among school division staffing ratios for these positions, with almost all school divisions in Virginia exceeding recommendations set by the professional associations.
The VDOE has shown that increasing the number of qualified mental health providers in schools has been a priority. As such, to holistically support students across the Commonwealth, the Virginia Board of Education has proposed an amendment to existing regulations that can result in establishing the ratio of student support personnel to students served to 4:1000 (1:250). To support these efforts, partnerships were established with seven high-need LEAs, higher education agencies, and other state agencies (i.e., Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services), and local/national associations (i.e., Virginia School Counselor Association, Virginia Association of School Psychologists, and Association of Virginia Association of School Social Work).
Lessons learned include the importance of ongoing focus and diligence with building and sustaining partnerships with partner school divisions, higher education agencies, state agencies, state school mental health professional organizations. Also, being able to adapt to changes and being flexible based on changing environments and needs. With the funding resources provided to LEAs, they are encouraged to participate in long-term financial planning as it relates to supporting the additional FTEs added, as well as leverage other local/state/federal funding streams made available in future years. By the last year of the grant, LEAs are encouraged to create and implement specific recruitment and retention plans based upon the needs of each school division.
For more information on these legislative efforts, visit:
Guidance for the Provision of Specialized Student Support Positions in Virginia Public Schools: https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/GetFile.cfm?File=C:%5CTownHall%5Cdocroot%5CGuidanceDocs%5C201%5CGDoc_DOE_7028_v2.pdf
Virginia’s Legislative Session, SB 1257 SOQ: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=211&typ=bil&val=sb1257