Senate Bills 14, 224, and 237, authored by State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), received bipartisan support today and were approved by the Senate Education Committee. SB 224 and 14 address the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by mandating mental health education and training programs in schools. SB 237 would require elementary schools to screen students who are at risk for dyslexia.
“It’s critical that we support policies to improve the mental health of California’s youth,” stated Senator Portantino. “By providing kids mental health education from a young age and mental health training for students and educators, we can end the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health and help them succeed,” added Senator Portantino.
SB 224 would require all students in California to receive mental health education at least one time during elementary school, one time during middle school, and one time during high school. Educational topics will include but are not limited to the overarching themes and core principles of mental health.
SB 14 requires the California Department of Education to identify an evidence based training program for school employees who have direct contact with students. It also permits 10th-12th graders to receive similar but age-appropriate training to help identify mental health struggles among their peers. The bill ensures that youth absences from school for mental health issues will be treated as an excused absence in the same way any other health issues are treated.
“NAMI CA is thrilled to see the bipartisan support for SB 224’s passage from the Senate Education Committee today,” stated Jessica Cruz, Chief Executive Officer for the California Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “As recent reports of COVID’s startling impact – particularly for our youth – on mental health have shown, it is imperative that we equip California students with the skills they need to identify signs and symptoms of a mental illness and, most importantly, how to seek treatment.”
“We are grateful for Senator Portantino’s continued leadership across multiple years in bringing greater attention to mental health issues, notably student mental health,” stated Wendy Wang, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for Hathaway-Sycamores. “As a local non-profit organization in the 25th Senate District, we are proud to join a broad coalition of children’s advocates to endorse Senate Bills 14 and 224. Together with other mental health champions, Hathaway-Sycamores views these bills as a vital step to ensuring that students’ mental health is recognized as a crucial component of their ability to thrive while in school and beyond.”
“The bipartisan support of SB 14 & 224 today is a valued step forward in coordinating our community efforts to deliver vital mental health education and care to our youth,” stated Laurie Bleick, Executive Director of the Family Service Agency of Burbank. “I continue to be grateful and inspired by the leadership Senator Portantino has long demonstrated as it relates to the mental health of our youth, our families and our communities.”
SB 237 will require the State Board of Education, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, to provide dyslexia screening instruments to be used annually by schools in order to identify students who are at risk for dyslexia.
It is estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of Americans have symptoms of dyslexia, making it the most common form of learning disability. Due to inadequate screening, only about 5% of people with dyslexia are aware that they have it. The proportion of people with dyslexia is believed to be much higher amongst incarcerated individuals. A 2000 study of Texas prisoners estimated that about half the prison population was likely dyslexic, while a 2014 study by the Education Department found that a third of surveyed inmates had trouble with simple reading questions
“SB 237 will unquestionably improve the lives of the countless children who would otherwise not be screened for dyslexia,” stated Senator Portantino. “Early and accurate screening of students at risk for dyslexia helps them thrive in school and succeed throughout their career.”
These measures reflect the Senator’s dedication to improving mental health outcomes for youth. SB 237 is personal for Senator Portantino, as he struggled with dyslexia, ADHD, and cross dominance during his own time in school and continues to face these challenges every day.