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Half of all school districts in Texas do not have mental health services. Uvalde was one of them.

After eight students and two teachers were murdered in 2018 at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, Governor Greg Abbott pledged to find solutions to the lack of mental health resources in schools.

“We must do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” the Texas governor said.

Four years later and on the heels of another fatal Texas school shooting, a CBS News investigation found that most public schools in the state still offer little or no direct access to health services. mindset for their students.

“Nobody listened to us students,” said Zach Muehe, who four years ago missed his sophomore art class at Santa Fe High School when a gunman opened fire. “The mental health issue, I believe, is the root of it all. It’s just never talked about and I don’t know why.”

Survivors of school shootings said they had tried to raise the alarm about the lack of mental health services for students for years, but often felt their concerns were ignored.

In Texas, 593 school districts do not have a school psychologist on staff and do not offer a telehealth option, according to CBS News’ analysis of Texas Education Agency (TEA) data. That leaves more than half a million children in Texas without any mental health services at school.

That includes the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (CISD), where there are no school psychologists on staff, the CBS News analysis showed. The neighborhood in mourning was also not enrolled in the statewide telehealth mental health program that was set up in response to the Santa Fe high school shooting.

The suspect in the Santa Fe shooting, a 17-year-old college student, was deemed mentally ill and was declared unfit to stand trial.

Zach Muehe and Chris Guindon at the Santa Fe High School Memorial
Former classmates Zach Muehe (left) and Chris Guindon visit the “Unfillable Chair” memorial at Santa Fe High School in Texas.

CBS News

After Santa Fe, Texas officials approved nearly $100 million to increase children’s mental health services across the state. Among the initiatives was a telehealth program called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT).

TCHATT, which is now installed in nearly 400 school districts statewide, connects struggling students with licensed school psychologists through live video chats.

Dr. David Lakey, chief medical officer for the University of Texas system, said TCHATT has already helped more than 12,000 students who have received counseling through the program.

“The other reason I think it works is because we asked parents, ‘Does it work?'” Lakey said. “And when we do that kind of analysis, we get overwhelming feedback that parents and kids are happy and think they are significantly better or better off with this TCHATT service.”

But Lakey acknowledged that the telehealth program still has a long way to go.

This school year, TCHATT will be in no less than 417 school districts in Texas, covering about 59% of the student population, according to a CBS News analysis of data from TCHATT and the Texas Education Agency.

But that still leaves more than 800 districts without access to TCHATT, including CISD in Uvalde.

Dr David Lakey
Dr David Lakey

CBS News

Asked if the TCHATT program could have flagged the Uvalde shooter, Lakey said: “If five years ago we could have had this program there, when he was in about 7th grade, and figured things weren’t right and then put him in touch with the services he needed, I think that’s a situation where it would have been much less likely that this individual would have done what he did do.”

The challenge of getting the TCHATT program into all schools in Texas was not due to a lack of funding. Millions of dollars budgeted for the program went unspent in its first two years.

Lakey said one of the challenges was getting schools involved; some hesitated about a new program. The other challenge is finding enough mental health professionals to do the job.

“We have a major mental health workforce challenge in the state of Texas, so one of the hurdles our institutions face is just hiring the people we need to provide the service to all Texas state schools,” Lakey said. Explain.

To work as a school psychologist in Texas, a person must have a special license certifying that they have received training related to school psychology. School psychologists are different from guidance counselors, who do not need to have formal training in psychology.

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends that schools have at least one such psychologist for every 500 to 700 students, but most Texas students go to school districts with ratios far higher than that: one psychologist for more an average of 1,200 students, according to CBS News. ‘ analysis.

Almost no school in Texas employs enough psychologists, CBS News found. Of the more than 1,200 districts in the state, only 39 meet this recommended ratio. These districts serve less than 1% of all students in Texas.

For the rest of Texas schools to meet this minimum standard, about 5,600 more psychologists would need to be hired. Texas has incentive programs to lure people into mental health professions, but they still have failed to fill the void.

Texas is not alone. A May report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that only about half of public schools nationwide said they could effectively provide mental health services to students.

This data showed that only about 50% of all public schools provided mental health assessment services and just over 40% provided mental health treatment. For rural districts, these rates were even lower.

According to Lakey, it’s particularly difficult to find enough mental health professionals to work in rural districts like Uvalde, where the need is often greatest.

“I told the Legislature just that point,” Lakey said. “They can give me a bucket of money, but if I can’t hire enough people to provide those services, I can’t spend those dollars.”

Sanger ISD, about 60 miles north of Dallas, is one of 39 districts that meets the recommended ratio for mental health professionals.

Facing funding challenges similar to most schools in Texas, the small, rural district has used community partnerships and creativity to meet the mental health needs of its students.


CBS News

“Mental health is a priority for this community and this school district,” said Ann Hughes, director of student emotional behavior and student intervention at Sanger ISD. “We teach behavior the same way other people teach math. We don’t give up when someone has behavioral issues. We get to the bottom of it.”

To circumvent the lack of state funding, Sanger ISD partners with churches, charities, and the city to fill gaps in student services.
Hughes has also applied for and received grants to help fund mental health.

However, it’s what the district has done with the money that sets it apart.

At three of Sanger ISD’s schools, there are dedicated “movement rooms” and “quiet rooms” where students learn to manage their emotions.

Inside Linda Tutt High School, where the most struggling kids are sent, there is a free grocery store.

The store not only fills a need for many of these students, but since it is also student-run, it gives them purpose.

“It’s about contributing,” Hughes explained. “It’s seeing that maybe someone has a need like yours or someone has a greater need, so that creates a connection.”

For each behavioral program, Sanger ISD collects data, so the district knows what works and what doesn’t.

But success isn’t just measured in numbers.

“I probably wouldn’t be here without Ann,” said Linda Tutt High School alumnus Preston Westbrook, 18.

Preston Westbrook
Preston Westbrook

CBS News

By the time Westbrook started high school, he said he had bounced between 26 different foster homes. In a dozen homes, Westbrook said he was abused both mentally and physically.

Westbrook had a serious anger problem when he arrived at Linda Tutt High School. He often ran to the roof of the school to escape.

“That’s how I walked away from people when I was angry,” he said. “I ripped door hinges off when I was 9. I drilled holes in doors. … Without Ann, I wouldn’t be here. I think there should be more schools like this -this.”

“He’s one of our real success stories,” Hughes said.

Hughes said she, too, was frustrated with the lack of dedicated state funding for mental health, but said schools shouldn’t allow that to stop them from trying.

“The energy I put into throwing my hands up and chasing it, let’s use it and take a small step. And then small steps become big steps and before you know it, you’re in travel and you impact lives.”

Editor’s Note: The title of this story has been updated.


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