With rise in school threats, Virginia state senator wants mental health prioritized

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 11:37 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Virginia lawmaker is calling on elected leaders to do something to better support students who may be battling mental health challenges.

This comes after a rise in school threats across central Virginia, prompting some districts to cancel in-person classes and others to hold emergency meetings to figure out how to handle the problem.

In Buckingham County, school staff met Wednesday and decided to go virtual for the rest of the week.

In a letter to parents, Brunswick School officials advised of an alleged school riot to happen during third period Friday. The superintendent said it’s a social media post that’s being widely shared, “perhaps all over the country.” Still, schools there are planning an increased police presence for that day.

“The stress and strain on our kids have gotten worse,” Senator Jennifer McClellan said.

In Buckingham, a student said last week they were going to bring a gun to school last week. A couple days later, school staff found a CO2 pellet pistol in a student’s backpack, leading to a 10th grader being criminally charged. The next day, school officials decided to cancel in-person classes following group text messages threatening violence and an additional threat on social media.

“The stress of COVID and the stress of returning back to school…What they really need are mental health professionals and counselors and social workers to help with those needs,” McClellan added.

She says year after year, the General Assembly shoots down measures to step up mental and behavioral health resources in schools across the Commonwealth.

Right now, there’s even a cap on how much the state pays localities for these resources, and McClellan wants it gone.

“One counselor for every 250 students…At least four specialized personnel, so nurses, psychologists, social workers, behavioral health per 1,000 students,” she said, explaining suggested guidelines.

The problem in the past is critics have said it’s too costly. She says she will bring it up again when lawmakers reconvene next month.

“I think it’s past time we do what the professionals tell us is the bare minimum to meet the needs of our students,” McClellan said.

Another school district dealing with concerns is Greensville County. A student was shot and killed away from school this month, but it prompted threats of violence at school in the days that followed. A student has been arrested for the threats in that case.

Authorities everywhere are reminding parents to talk with children about what they’re posting online.

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