2022 | Schools

MCPS students continue pushing for more mental health support

School board continues reviewing proposed $2.9 billion budget

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The Montgomery County Board of Education held a public hearing on Tuesday about the school district's proposed operating budget.

screenshot via livestream

As the Montgomery County school board deliberates over a proposed $2.9 billion budget for the next fiscal year, students continue to push for a deeper investment in mental health resources.

During a public hearing on Tuesday night, a handful of students testified about the heightened need for counselors, psychologists and other resources as they grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearing the end of its second year.

“After the pandemic disrupted the way we learn and function in a school atmosphere, students and parents need more help than ever getting back on track,” student Gretchen Gilmore said. “We need admin in schools that can work with students and staff to ensure this is happening while also improving the safe environment of the building.”

Sophie Nguyen, a freshman at Rockville High School, said she was overwhelmed by homework and the new environment when she returned to in-person classes this year. She said it was “incredibly difficult to adapt” and “hiring more school counselors and psychologists is the first step” to supporting students.

Related story: Kids struggle with mental health issues during the pandemic

Felipe De Bolle added that it’s common for students to need help or support suddenly, but they are forced to make appointments, often several days out. The needs, he said, are “urgent and cannot be met with the amount of staff we have now.”

Before the pandemic, counselor positions at middle and high schools in Montgomery County had a student-to-staff ratio of 250-to-1.

But, as the students pointed out on Tuesday, the call for more mental health support is not new.

For years, advocates have pressed the district for the same investment.

In every recent budget, funds have been allocated for a handful of new counselors or psychologists, but some believe it hasn’t been enough to make a tangible difference in the district.

In this year’s proposed budget, there is no increase for the number of counselors or psychologists. There is a decrease of about two counselor positions in the proposed budget, according to MCPS documents.

School board member Lynne Harris said it’s “becoming more and more clear” that “learning loss mitigation and academic progress and mental wellness … are intertwined.”

“This is all just coming together to highlight the need to have a different approach to mental wellness professionals in our schools,” Harris said.

The school board is scheduled to hold a work session about the operating budget on Wednesday and another on Jan. 25.

The board will finalize its version of the budget and send it to the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich for review in February.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com