The House passed two measures on Tuesday aimed at improving the mental wellbeing of Delaware students. And shockingly, the votes were not unanimous.
House Bill 3 and House Bill 4, sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, are part of a larger package of bills known as the 2023 Delaware Behavioral Health Package. Collectively, the measures encompass a holistic approach to improving the way mental health care is delivered and addressed for children in Delaware.
“Our kids are struggling with their mental health in ways many of us can’t even begin to understand, and if we don’t act quickly to address this crisis, the long-term consequences could be dire,” said Rep. Longhurst.
“We have taken an important step forward to deliver the compassionate, comprehensive mental health support our kids need and deserve, but we’re not stopping here. I’m grateful to my colleagues for recognizing the importance of these measures and I’m looking forward to advancing the remaining components of the 2023 Delaware Behavioral Health Package in the General Assembly.”
While the data showed a decline in student mental health years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that the pandemic created severe mental health challenges and stressors. Research shows that the impacts of stress and trauma can disrupt a student’s behavior, emotional well-being, academic success, and health. Even more concerning, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34.
|House Bill 3 – 3 Excused Absences for Mental Health Reasons||Currrent Status – House Passed 34-3-4. Sent to the Senate Education Committee 5/17/23|
|House Sponsors – Longhurst, Heffernan, Minor-Brown, Chukwuocha, Moore, Morrison, Osienski // Smith Hensely||Senate Sponsors – Sturgeon, Hoffner, Huxtable, McBride|
|House Yes Votes – Baumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Harris Johnson Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Moore Morrison Osienski Parker-Selby Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams // Dukes Gray Hensley Hilovsky Morris Ramone Short Shupe Smith Spiegelman Vanderwende Yearick||Senate Yes Votes –|
|House No Votes – Briggs King, Postles, Collins||Senate No Votes –|
|House Absents or Not Voting – Griffith, Neal, Heffernan, Wilson-Anton||Senate Absent or Not Voting –|
House Bill 3 passed by a vote of 34-3-4, with Republicans Ruth Briggs King, Charles Postles and Rich Collins voting no for reasons passing human understanding. This bill would help students prioritize their mental health by providing them with excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons. To ensure that students struggling with their mental health get the help they need, this bill would require that any student taking more than two of these excused absences be referred to a school-based mental or behavioral health specialist.
“During my 25-year tenure as a public-school teacher, there were many devastating losses of young people and of building staff that my students, my colleagues, and I experienced together. I saw the lasting impact this had on my students and was grateful when they were able to access counseling for their grief and for the other emotions that such a loss triggered for them” said Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Laura Sturgeon, Senate primate sponsor of HB 4 and HB 3.
“Thank you to Rep. Longhurst and my colleagues in House for voting to ensure all schools are providing consistent and quality support to students in the wake of crisis, and our students have the flexibility to take a day or two for their own mental health when the need arises. I look forward to passing this bill in the Senate next month.”
|House Bill 4 – Post Traumatic Event Behavorial Health Support||Currrent Status – House Passed 36-0-5. Sent to the Senate Education Committee 5/17/23|
|House Sponsors – Longhurst, Heffernan, Minor-Brown, Neal Chukwuocha, Moore, Morrison, Osienski // Smith Hensely||Senate Sponsors – Sturgeon, Hansen, Hoffner, Huxtable, McBride, Poore|
|House Yes Votes – Baumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Harris Johnson Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Moore Morrison Osienski Parker-Selby Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams // Dukes Gray Hensley Hilovsky Morris Ramone Short Shupe Smith Spiegelman Yearick Briggs King, Postles, Collins||Senate Yes Votes –|
|House No Votes –||Senate No Votes –|
|House Absents or Not Voting – Griffith, Neal, Heffernan, Wilson-Anton, Vanderwende||Senate Absent or Not Voting –|
House Bill 4 would ensure that students have access to behavioral health support in their schools in the aftermath of a school-connected traumatic event, defined as the death of any student, educator, administrator, or other building employee of a public school or other traumatic event that affects a significant portion of the students of the school.
Under HB 4, the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) would be tasked with developing guidance, best practices, and written resources for schools dealing with a school-connected traumatic event. DOE would also be responsible for covering the costs of grief counseling offered to students at the school for up to 45 days after a school-connected event, with an option to renew for an additional 45 days.
HB 4 is also known as Nolan’s Law, in honor of Wendy Eastburn-Teal’s son Nolan, who died by suicide last year.
HB 3 and HB 4 will now go to the Senate for consideration.