Amid a continuing teacher strike, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis that would identify millions in Los Angeles County funds that could be directed to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to enhance healthcare for students.
“Among the concerns raised by teachers is the need for more support services for students and, with this motion, we are doing what we can to be helpful,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, a former high school teacher himself. “LA County has sufficient resources and this is part of fulfilling our mandate to provide medical services to the most vulnerable.”
The motion seeks to build on the infrastructure and resources that LA County already provides LAUSD, which includes dozens of school-based health centers, as well as mental health clinicians, crisis intervention training for teachers, and counseling for families. LA County is also currently working to build dozens of wellbeing centers in high schools to support teenage students’ social and emotional wellness and sexual health.
Specifically, the motion instructed the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to identify up to $10 million in potential funding to enhance mental health and wellbeing at LAUSD schools. The amount would make it possible to fund a healthcare professional on every elementary school campus five days a week. Research has shown that the sooner children experiencing trauma or distress can access professional treatment and support, the higher their likelihood to succeed academically and develop resilience and effective coping mechanisms.
“The mental health and wellbeing of our kids, schools, and neighborhoods must always be front and center,” DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin said. “We empower our future by identifying and addressing needs early and broadly through services at our school platforms. We are currently invested in a strong partnership with LAUSD, and this motion takes our commitment to a whole new level.”
The motion also instructed the County’s Departments of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health (DPH) to, within 30 days, identify strategies for supporting LAUSD in its efforts to hire school nurses and other health professionals.
“As a former high school principal, I know the importance of ensuring a healthy environment in our schools and DPH stands strongly in support of LAUSD,” DPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “Teachers, nurses, counselors, and parents all play a vital role in supporting our children and helping them become all they can be.”
LA County Office of Education (LACOE) Superintendent Debra Duardo, who recently assigned a team of fiscal experts to look into LAUSD’s worsening financial situation, said, “LACOE has long recognized that we cannot allow the unmet mental health needs of children and youth to stand in the way of their access to a great education.”
“As we continue to work with LAUSD on fiscal and operational health, we are encouraged by the leadership of Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis in recognizing the compelling need for funding for mental health services,” she added. “We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to ensure that every District in the County is equipped to support the social-emotional and mental health needs of our youth.”
Courtney Powers with the Community Clinic Association of LA County, which represents several operators of school-based health centers, also supported the motion. She said, “Our health centers are places of trust in the community and schools are too, so this is a terrific opportunity to expand reach to students and families in need.”
“When the physical, emotional and psychological needs of children are met, we all benefit from their ability to focus on learning,” said Michael Green, LA County Regional Director for SEIU Local 721. “If, through this investment, we increase the wellness and learning ability of a child, then we are making a positive change for their future, and the future of our community.”