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FL Public Schools to Begin Mental Health Curriculum

Governor’s Press Office

With unanimous approval by the state Board of Education, public schools in Florida will be required to teach students about mental health issues.

The new program – “Hope for Healing” – mandates at least five hours of instruction in grades six through 12 per school year. It stems from a recent listening tour around the state led by First Lady Casey DeSantis, who says it’s grown beyond just a collaboration of state agencies.

“And I think it’s imperative that we go in this direction in the sense that, we work with our private partners,” said DeSantis. “We want to make sure that those people who want to do good things know how to help make a difference by doing the ‘Hope for Healing’ initiative.”

School administrators proposed the change to the statewide curriculum last month, following discussions with the First Lady — who has made mental health one of her top priorities.

“What I realized very quickly is that I wanted to take a step back and listen,” she said. “And I wanted to see where we could do things to make a meaningful impact. And very quickly I realized that mental health and substance abuse was one of those two areas.”

The approach taken towards those two areas, says DeSantis, is similar to the way she and her husband look at environmental issues.

“This is an investment in the people of this state; making sure they are getting meaningful help and good outcomes is only going to pay off in major dividends,” says DeSantis. “Not only for their well-being, but also from a monetary perspective when we look at people contributing to the state’s economy. It’s just the right thing to do, just like the environment.” 

Credit hopeforhealing.com

“We recognize CPR saves lives, but also proper mental health training will save lives,” said State Education Sec. Richard Corcoran. “We’ve already secured and are pending right now 30-day approval for a $2 million grant from the federal government for the ‘Hope for Healing’ program, to create that mental awareness and get that word out.”

Corcoran worked with the First Lady to draw up the new rule after the listening tour.

“We want every single child not only to graduate with a world-class education, but to be stable and ready for all those challenges and obstacles that they’re going to face in the course of their lifetime,” Corcoran said. “And if they’ve been trained and they know how to overcome those obstacles; push through, and persevere in a society that can be very, very difficult.”

School districts will be able to choose the types of courses to be taught, but there remains a lot of grey area when it comes to implementation, according to Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

“The way it’s worded in the rule is pretty broad; it’s everything from actual mental health issues that kids might face – and that in itself is broad – to bullying, to cyberbullying,” said Thomas. “What we’re going to try to figure out over the next few weeks is the timeline – [and] is it going to happen this year?”

Other questions to be answered, adds Thomas, include the qualifications of those who provide the instruction, along with how to put together the five-hour curriculum.

“So we’ll have to work with the Department of Education and our own specialists to figure out and define what is meant in those five hours’ instruction,” Thomas said. “I actually think on this, since it’s only five hours, it would probably become incorporated into an existing class.”

Mental health assistance in the schools is essential, contends Thomas. To that end, the Escambia District has partnered with the Lakeview Center to offer outpatient help for students and families for the past two decades.

“But with the allocation the Legislature gave us last year, we were able to put licensed mental health counselors on every campus – elementary, middle, and high school,” said Thomas. “And so we’re not sure if that’s the group that’s going to deliver instruction; if it’s going to be a part of some other, existing class – which would be an easy thing to do.”

Funds for the program will come from $75 million Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allocated to the Mental Health Assistance Allocation for Florida schools in his 2020 budget.