ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A new lesson plan coming up this school year for students around the state will center on mental health education.
- Course will help students recognize health issues
- Students will not be graded or penalized for missing out
- New requirements make some teachers uneasy
- Teacher says he is not qualified to teach mental health to students
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The new requirement was a part of the state reforms passed following the Valentine's Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.
Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) expected to begin this instruction on Tuesday, as they will be spreading the mental health instruction out throughout the month of February. They will be delivering five hour-long sessions throughout the month of February.
Students will be learning about mental health as part of a statewide requirement passed last year. OCPS says teachers were trained in the fall on what to do for these courses, helping students recognize issues with their health and others in school and these are lessons parents can follow-up with at home too.
"The lessons revolve around things like coping skills, good listening skills, suicide prevention. So I would just ask the child what they learned and then just have a discussion about that so they could process what they learned," said Mary Bridges, the executive director of Student Services at OCPS.
The district will have mental health professionals available for follow-ups with students as needed.
Under state law, any certified teacher is considered qualified to teach this, but high school English teacher Matthew Hazel says that does not feel right.
He says mental health is important and it is why it should come from someone trained to deal with these issues.
"But I'm not certified in mental health services. And the people who are certified, rather than deliver the content that they're trained to deliver, they're sitting in some room by themselves waiting for me to screw up and for one of our children to have a negative reaction to something I'm presenting so that child can be sent down to them. If they're at the school anyway, why aren't they presenting this material?" questioned Hazel, who is also a member of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association union.
He says students could have negative or emotional reactions to these lessons and there is not a clear plan on how best they should deal with it.
These mental health courses are not a graduation requirement for students.
District leaders say if students do not show up to class or are absent, they will not be penalized for missing out and they will not be graded on this.
As for the teacher concerns, the district is expected to continue discussions with the unions about the new curriculum.