New mental health teaching requirement starts in fall

Some Regents voice concerns about who will lead new lessons

Categories: News, Schenectady County

Schools across the state will be required to teach about mental health as part of a broader health curriculum beginning next school year.

The new mandate was set forth in legislation passed last year.

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The Board of Regents on Monday was presented with proposed regulations to enact the state law by adding mental health into the state’s health education mandate.

School districts’ health program will be required to cover the “several dimensions of health,” which now include mental health, and must “be designed to enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity,” according to the proposed regulation.

A committee of mental health experts, state officials and health educators is working to develop a model curriculum document and other recommendations for how schools can integrate mental health into lessons.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said a panel would release a list of recommendations for districts in the spring, and that the model curriculum would be available for schools in June.

While they praised the addition of the new mental health requirement, some Regents raised concerns that districts would be unable to find qualified staff to teach the new material. They pointed out that mental health lessons will touch on sensitive issues that require expert knowledge from teachers.

“I’m concerned about what we are asking these individuals to do,” said Regent Susan Mittler, who represents the state’s Sixth Judicial District. “We need qualified, trained professionals to do this kind of work.”

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