PA’s Safe2Say Program Fields over 40,000 Tips in First Year (January 20, 2020)

Last week,  after one year of operation of the Safe2Say program, which was created following Governor Wolf’s signing of Act 44 in 2018, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Safe2Say Something PA has reached 40,382 tips from on the state’s anonymous reporting system for schools, students, and community members. Of those tips, 6,847 were categorized as ‘life-safety,’ whereby a life was in danger.

Attorney General Shapiro reported that most tips have been about mental health, not school violence  and he re-emphasized the need for additional funding to expand mental health services in schools and “to ensure there is at least one mental health counselor in every school building in PA.” The top five categories of tips received during Safe2Say’s first year were:

  1. Bullying/Cyber Bullying,
  2. Cutting/Self-Harm,
  3. Suicide/Suicide Ideation,
  4. Drug Use/Distribution/Possession, and
  5. Depression/Anxiety.

Students and community members can submit tips at; through the Safe2Say Something PA app; or by phone at 844-Safe2Say (844-723-2729). Most of the 40,382 tips were received through the app (32,998), while 6,512 tips came through the website, and 872 tips were submitted by phone to the crisis management center.

Act 76 Makes Changes to Career and Technical Ed Nomenclature (January 18, 2020)

Act 76 of 2019 amends the Public School Code of 1949 by replacing references to “Vocational-Technical” with “Career and Technical” and “Vocational” with “Career and Technical.”  References to “Vocation” is replaced with “Career and Technical.”  References to Vocational School Districts are deleted, and the State Board for Vocational Education is renamed the State Board of Career and Technical Education.  These changes are effective December 29, 2019.

PDE is in the process of updating documents and its website to reflect the changes.

All vocational certificates that are currently issued and will be issued in the future will now say “Career and Technical” in place of “Vocational.” The change in title does not affect any aspect of the certificate holder’s certification other than the change in language on the certificate.

Questions regarding this information should be submitted to Dr. Kerry Helm, Division Chief of Certification Services, Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality, at (717) 525-5560.

HB 2046 Proposes Changes to Act 82 Regarding K-12 Special Ed. Certification (January 11, 2020)

When Act 82 of 2018 was passed, it changed the grade spans and age levels for K-12 Special Education certification instructional certificates in the Commonwealth. Now, PA House Bill 2046 would delay the implementation of that change from December 31, 2021 to December 31, 2022. In addition, a proposed amendment would permit PDE to continue to issue a special education PK-8 or special education 7-12 certification to any student enrolled in a teacher preparation program at an institution of higher education prior to December 31, 2021.

Pennsylvania Launches ‘Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters’ (January 4, 2020)

On January 2, 2020 Governor Tom Wolf announced a focused multi-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign, titled Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters, aimed at expanding resources and the state’s comprehensive support of mental health and related health care priorities. The governor announced several initiatives and reviews the administration will undertake for commonwealth agencies to bolster the effort. Further, over the coming weeks, agencies will announce additional initiatives. The governor was joined by mental health advocates, social workers, educators, military veterans, and cabinet secretaries in making the announcement.

“For those struggling with their mental health, we have one message: your mental health matters and it’s okay to reach out for help,” Gov. Wolf said. “We are stepping up our efforts to ensure every Pennsylvanian can access mental health care and more agencies can respond to the challenges facing Pennsylvanians struggling with their mental health. The act of reaching out for help – or to help – can make a huge difference for someone struggling.”

According to a 2017 study from the University of Southern California, approximately 1 million adult Pennsylvanians struggled with serious psychological distress at least once in 2015. Of those adults, more than 27 percent had an unmet need for mental health care. That population includes 42 percent who did not receive mental health care because they could not afford it. Thus, the multi-agency approach will be instituted to better address these needs.

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID) will pursue Mental Health Parity regulations to ensure Pennsylvanians’ health insurance coverage provides access to affordable mental health care. Recent market conduct reviews by the PID found that insurance companies are not adequately meeting federal and state requirements for mental health parity, necessitating stronger state regulations. PID also will release educational tools to help patients better understand their mental health benefits and access services.

The Department of Human Services will take steps to incentivize the integration of physical and behavioral health services to remove barriers to coordinating care and treatment. DHS will create financial incentives to encourage managed care organizations that provide Medical Assistance benefits to create, maintain, and continuously improve collaboration between the entities and providers that coordinate and deliver physical health benefits and mental health benefits.

The Department of Health will conduct a review of the current network adequacy process to ensure that consumers enrolled in the Medicaid program and commercial insurance products are able to access mental health care providers when services are necessary and without prohibitive costs.

The departments of Labor & Industry and State will study solutions that address the inadequacy of the mental health workforce across Pennsylvania, including evaluating mental health practitioners across the commonwealth by level of care they provide, the competitiveness of salaries and benefits, and barriers of entry to the workforce.

Many Pennsylvanians do not access the mental health care they need or do not reach out for help because they fear having a label or stigma attached to them by their family, friends, and community. By raising awareness of the normalcy and importance of mental health care, others will be less fearful of the stigma.

Pennsylvania’s nationally recognized response to the opioid and substance use disorder crisis included public engagement and open conversations to combat stigma. The Wolf administration will deploy the practices used by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to lead a similar effort around mental health and mental illness.

The Department of Education will create pathways to increase the number of highly qualified social workers trained to work in our schools. School social workers play a unique role in addressing mental health by providing holistic services and supports in the school setting, such as crisis management, mental health treatment, and engaging the school, family and community in enhancing existing student support structures that ensure the success of all students. Pathways will include new certification, among other options, to enhance who can provide social work services in Pennsylvania’s schools.

The Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will evaluate how to ensure every school district can provide a full-time counselor, social worker and nurse, along with increasing more counseling and mental health services at post-secondary institutions.

The Office of Advocacy and Reform will coordinate and expand upon ongoing efforts in the commonwealth to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and implement more trauma-informed approaches in education, health care, the criminal justice system and other government institutions.

The administration will expand training of constituent affairs personnel on suicide prevention and mental health intervention. To date, more than 420 workers at the Department of Labor & Industry have received suicide prevention training. With this training, workers have already been able to recognize people who need help with their mental health, to intervene and connect them with services or support.

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will review the adequacy of federal and state programs in educating members of the military and veterans on resources available to them, especially those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and at risk for harming themselves or others.

The Department of Aging will expand its efforts to create a dementia-friendly Pennsylvania by collaborating with national and statewide partners to support training, build awareness and promote action among community stakeholders.

Reach Out PA will include roundtable discussions to hear directly from those battling the stigma of mental illness, collaboration with community-based organizations to help increase public attention on mental illness and mental health care, and outreach to elevate success stories and best practices. Gov. Wolf hosted the first roundtable on Friday, January 3rd at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. The roundtable was convened with the help of Rep. Mike Schlossberg, who takes an active role in furthering the goal of increased access and reduced stigma to mental health care. In the coming weeks, state agencies and legislators will announce additional roundtable discussions across the state aimed at gathering additional input on regional initiatives and needs.

Federal Court Cases Could Have Major Impact on U.S. Public Education in 2020 (December 26, 2019)

As we head into 2020, a number of compelling federal court cases could have a significant and lasting influence on K-12 US public education. One of those cases is Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board. In this case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its Virginia chapter filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the Gloucester County (VA) School board after it enacted policies barring Gavin Grimm, a transgender male, from accessing bathrooms aligned with his gender identity claiming the bathroom policy is unconstitutional and that it violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools. In 2017, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to be reconsidered after the Trump administration rescinded the USDE’s Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students’ rights under Title IX, which allowed transgender students to access bathrooms and facilities of their choice.

For the other critical cases involving K-12 public schools, including the DACA program and the right to an education, go to the original Education Dive article by clicking here.