Public Comments for: HB829 - School counselors; staffing ratios, flexibility.
Last Name: Watkins Locality: Reston

To Whom It May Concern, Thank you for the opportunity to comment on HB 1034. As a public high school school teacher and parent of two young children (ages 5 and 2) in Virginia, I have serious concerns that this bill will wind up doing more harm than good for the children of our state. I have worked in two different public school systems in Virginia over 13 years, and I have seen first hand how beneficial counseling services can be to a wide variety of students. If parents are allowed to prohibit their students from accessing counseling services in the school, these students may be cut off from not only critical mental health support, but but also the academic, career, and community support that school counselors and mental health team members provide. All members of a school mental health team must undergo rigorous education before obtaining their licenses, and as such they should be trusted as the professionals they are to provide only services that they deem necessary for students well-being. I strongly urge you to let the trained mental health professionals do their jobs. Don't make students get tied in the mire of adult squibbles. Thank you, Sara Watkins Mother Teacher Concerned Virginia Citizen

Last Name: Watkins Locality: Reston

To Whom It May Concern, Thank you for the opportunity to comment on HB HB1032. As a public high school school teacher and parent of two young children (ages 5 and 2) in Virginia, I have serious concerns that this bill will wind up doing more harm than good for the children of our state. As VA Senator Peterson said on January 27 of this year, regarding a similar bill, "I don't think we should be involved in micromanaging school libraries...The problem is that you’re going to sweep up books that you don’t intend to sweep up" (Matthew Barakat, abcnews.go.com). I strongly urge you to leave the books in the libraries for the kids. They deserve to have the opportunity to decide with their own parents and personal support systems what books to read. Thank you, Sara Watkins Mother Teacher Concerned Virginia Citizen

Last Name: Hiltz Organization: Virginia School Counselor Association Locality: Richmond City

The Virginia School Counselor Association opposes HB 829. VSCA believes that all individuals serving in the role of a school counselor should be fully or provisionally licensed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to ensure appropriate oversight and guidance for school counseling in Virginia. This is what is best for Virginia’s students. We have additional concerns about the undefined licensed counseling professional language that is included in this bill. VSCA attempted to meet with the patron and interested parties to discuss alternative options and address concerns but were not afforded the opportunity and were not given time to provide written input. The Department of Education already allows for individuals with appropriate credentials to apply for provisional licensure to fill the role of School Counseling. We believe that this provides the flexibility requested by the school divisions and HB 829 is not needed. This provision is in line with all other areas deemed as critical shortage areas by the State Board of Education. The VDOE study completed in July 2021, that looked at vacancies statewide in School Counseling indicated that school counselor vacancies were filled within 12 months for all but 1 division and within 6 months for all but 4. These vacancies were also regionalized, not a statewide issue. This bill allows for school systems to hire licensed counseling professionals employed by the school board or provided through contracted services without any provision for licensure or training needed for school counseling. School Counselors are specifically trained to provide academic, career, AND social emotional support to all students. This is achieved through whole school programming, classroom lessons, tiered interventions, small group and individual support, collaboration, and consultation. Licensed Professional Counselors and other licensed mental health professionals do not receive the same specific training or licensure requirements. In addition to providing social/emotional and mental health services, school counselors are uniquely trained to provide K-12 students with academic career planning services and college & career readiness initiatives required by VA state law 8VAC20-131-140; 8VAC20-131-51, 8VAC20-131-60, etc., whereas this is not an area of training or education required for any other licensed counseling professionals in the state of Virginia. Counselors, like doctors, have different education, clinical training, and specialties, and I trust that you would not want to send your child to a family physician for a heart valve replacement. I personally completed the educational requirements for LPC and School Counseling and in order to provide community counseling had to register as a resident with the state and complete the specific requirements for LPC. The two degrees are not interchangeable. In order to practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I had to register as a resident with the Board of Counseling, be supervised by a registered LPC supervisor and required to complete licensure requirements to be fully licensed as an LPC. The licensure process is even handled by two different boards, due to the different nature of the focus and skills needed for each position. Please join VSCA in providing the best support for Virginia's students and oppose HB 829.

Last Name: Pope-Matthews Organization: Licensed School Counselors In The State of Virginia Locality: Petersburg

Dear Members of the House of Delegates. I hope this communication finds you well. I am a School Counselor who has worked with students as a teacher and counselor on the elementary, middle, and high school levels. My 32 years honorably serving as a School Counselor in the state of Virginia, encompasses five school divisions and includes 13 years of School Counseling Leadership. I am asking (begging) that you OPPOSE HB 829 and apologize for contacting you at this hour regarding this matter. I understand the need to increase efforts needed to protect and empower our youth who are experiencing alarming mental health challenges, during one of the most unpredictable times in our society. The addition to school staff of licensed mental health professionals would be great, however, not in lieu of Licensed School Counselors. One’s training to become a School Counselor prepares he or she to contribute to the life of children in many facets. Specific training for School Counselors is captured in the areas of mental health support, social and emotional maturity, academics, and career planning to include practical experiences. The titles of these categories represent a multitude of tasks that must be put into action, by the School Counselor to help ALL STUDENTS experience levels of success. Our School Counseling Programs are comprehensive in scope and guided by the American Association of School Counselors and the Virginia School Counselors Association. It is the Best Practices for our students through these affiliations and strong commitments of our School Counselors and their prospective school divisions have had the ability to afford students outstanding opportunities and personal support in all the areas we address. In addition, I am not sure if you are aware of the additional responsibilities that School Counselors have in their schools, which are non-counseling related. During the most recent exodus of teachers, counselors have also had to hold or teach classes to ensure Virginia’s students are taught and protected. Would this and or other tasks mentioned previously be a responsibility for a licensed mental health professional? The mentioning of these tasks are not complaints, however, the sharing of information that should also be considered when addressing this bill. Again, I ask you to PLEASE OPPOSE HB 829 that would support licensed mental health professionals to be hired to fill school counseling positions (unless they have completed a master’s degree in Counseling Education). Sincerely, Rebertha Pope-Matthews. Ed. D. School Counselor: Dinwiddie County High School, DCPS Petersburg High School, PCPS Highland Springs High School – School Counseling Director, HCPS Meadowbrook High School - School Counseling Director, CCPS Swift Creek Middle School - School Counseling Director, CCPS Hermitage Elementary School, VBCPS Kingsman Academy Public Charter School, DCPS

Last Name: Scheikl Organization: Rockingham County Public Schools Locality: Rockingham

Dear members of the Education - Early Childhood / Innovation Subcommittee, My name is Oskar Scheikl, and I have served as the superintendent in Rockingham County for the last five years. Two years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation proposed by Delegate Wilt to require the Department of Education to conduct a survey about division preferences in regard to filling school counselor positions. In rural divisions like Rockingham, the preference was clearly for additional flexibility. At that time, the idea of the potential additional flexibility was supported by members of both parties as well as the Governor's Office. I fully support this flexibility and hope you will support HB829. I understand the concerns from some corners that properly endorsed school counselors could potentially be bypassed in favor of a licensed mental health counselor without all of the classes required to be endorsed as a school counselor. However, I would ask what you, as legislators, think about when you continue to discuss lowering the ratio of students to school counselors. Are you picturing the need for additional career and academic counseling, or is the movement in that direction mostly driven by the clear understanding that students have increased significant mental health needs? I would argue that is clearly the latter. As a superintendent, I want to be able to hire the best person for an opening. All things being equal, an endorsed school counselor will be my preference. I am, however, aware of school divisions where counselor positions went unfilled for months because no endorsed school counselor even applied. One of the best counselors in my school division came as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and then acquired the additional career and academic counseling portions while already serving students. I am not asking you to devalue the status of endorsed school counselors. Rather, I am asking for flexibility in a critical area of need. The Department of Education has taken the step to allow for provisional licenses specifically for LPC's, but HB829 extends this flexibility. Our school counselors are incredibly important, and this bill provides for avenues to get some of the best people in the field into our schools with the full expectation that they serve schools in all areas designated for school counselors. I fully support HB829 and ask that you do as well. Sincerely, Oskar Scheikl, Ph.D. Division Superintendent Rockingham County Public Schools

Last Name: Abasolo Organization: Virginia School Counselor Association Locality: Hanover County

Dear members of the early childhood / innovation subcommittee, I am very pleased with the work that has occurred to support school counselors and do what is best for students by lowering the school counselor to student ratios. This also means that more school counselors will need to be staff in school districts throughout Virginia. Today, I wanted to address the wording in House Bill 829 (Section L). The term “other licensed counseling professionals” appears to be utilized synonymously with the term “school counselors”. Staffing other licensed counseling professionals in the place of school counselors is inappropriate. School counselors are specifically trained to provide academic, career, and social emotional support to all students. This is achieved through whole school programming, classroom lesson, tired interventions, small group and individual support collaboration and consultation. Other licensed professional counselors and mental health professions do not receive the same training or academic requirements. As a current elementary school counselor for 17 years, I know this to be accurate. School counselors should be staffed for school counselor positions! The VDOE study completed in 2021 indicated that school counselor vacancies were filled within 12 months for all but 1 division and within 6 months for all but 4 divisions. Please consider revising the bill to consider only school counselors for school counseling positions in the state of Virginia. Your time and consideration are greatly appreciated! Thank you, Paige Abasolo, M.Ed. VSCA Board of Directors

Last Name: Sarah Locality: Alexandria

As a school counselor for 10 years, I recognize the importance of the work that is done each day. School Counselors provide education on social, emotional, learning, responsive services, support to parents and staff and so much more. Having received a dual degree in clinical counseling and school counseling, I recognize that the training needed for a school counselor is different and unique. Hiring mental health counselors who do not have the training to be school counselors is a recipe to hurt children and schools. Mental health professionals have not been trained in classroom management, in providing classroom lessons, in working in the classroom and in doing in the moment crisis response. School counselors are available to fill these positions. Not only do we need to increase the number of school counselors in the schools, we need to ensure they have the proper training. Please vote no.

Last Name: Carroll Organization: VSCA Locality: Sterling

Dear Delegates Rasoul and Wilt, I am asking that, as a member of the House Education Subcommittee on Early Childhood/Innovation, you OPPOSE HB 829. School Counselors (holding VDOE licensure in School Counseling PreK-12) are specifically trained to provide all students with academic, career, social, emotional, and mental health support within the educational setting (which is significantly different from a clinical setting). All services provided in schools should be appropriate to the learning environment; those that are not risk being ineffective or even counterproductive. Just as children are not simply small adults, schools are not merely private clinics with white boards. Being trained to work within the school setting and learning context is essential to being effective (and cost effective). In addition to providing social/emotional and mental health services, school counselors are uniquely trained to provide K-12 students with academic career planning services and college & career readiness initiatives required by VA state law 8VAC20-131-140; 8VAC20-131-51, 8VAC20-131-60, etc., whereas this is not an area of training or education required for any other licensed counseling professionals in the state of Virginia. Counselors, like doctors, have different education, clinical training, and specialties, and I trust that you would not want to send your child to a family physician for a heart valve replacement. I also appreciate your ongoing support to increase student access to critical school counseling services. While I understand that the rationale for this bill is to combat "staffing shortages" in the area of school counseling, a VDOE study completed in 2021 indicated that school counselor vacancies were filled within 6 months for all but 4 school divisions (I believe there are 133 school divisions in VA). For those few divisions that are experiencing difficulties, there is already a VA Board of Education provision in licensure allowing for any school board to apply for a provisional license with an endorsement in school counseling for individuals who hold an active Licensed Professional Counseling (LPC) license, making this bill confusing and completely unnecessary. In sum, I urge you to continue providing VA's students with access to targeted, data-driven, comprehensive school counseling services provided by school counselors who have the specific education and training to provide these services within the educational setting. Thank you, Dr. Amy Gleason Carroll Director of School Counseling, William Obediah Robey High School Adjunct Professor, George Mason University

Last Name: Lefleur Locality: Roanoke

Please vote YES on HB-829. Children need accessibility to school counselors more than ever since Covid came about, and parents need to know HOW to obtain counseling for their children in need due to school related struggles and challenges. Transparency. Accessibility. Simply providing as a 'resource' mental health hospitals and facilities is not counseling at all. Waiting for outside mental health resources takes many, many months often, and by then much more damage is done to the child. This is paramount for the health and welfare of students.

Last Name: Parrish Locality: Palmyra

Dear subcommittee members, my name is Haden Parrish and I am writing to express my strong opposition to HB829: School counselors; staffing ratios, flexibility. I am currently in my final semester of graduate school, earning my Master's degree in Human Development Counseling in the school counseling track. I take general classes in clinical mental health counseling but the majority of my classes are specialized for the school counseling track. Clinical counselors do incredible work and serve a noble and needed purpose, and yet their work and purpose are not the same as a school counselor's. I can speak first hand as to the life-saving training mental health counselors are receiving, but I can also speak to how what they are learning as mental health counselors will not prepare them to be adequate school counselors. While other mental health professionals work to support the socio-emotional needs of people, school counselors are specifically trained in three domains to support k-12 students: socio-emotional, academic, and college/career. School Counselors are the school's pillar of support to students and work to aid them from all educational angles. K-12 students can, and do, face challenges that overlap with many aspects of their life; a majority of student challenges are not just simply related to mental health, academics, or post-secondary opportunities, but likely interrelated to two or all three domains that school counselors specialize in. As an example, imagine the scenario of a student losing their parent during their junior year of high school. Immediately after the student returns to the school they will need socio-emotional support from the school community and specifically their counselor. But they will need more than that. They will need an advocate to reach out to their teachers, someone to have prepared recommendations for grief resources or tutors if needed, a facilitator to offer a grief support group for students with similar experiences, and, down the road, a reference to explain to job recruiters or college admissions offices why there should be leniency given to any discrepancies on the student's transcript that semester, not to mention to brag about the student's resilience and commitment to growth. "Other licensed counseling professionals" might be trained to support this hypothetical student in one aspect of their experience, but school counselors are trained and experienced in aiding that student in each of those ways and more because they will know the student's story and will be able to support holistically as opposed to just socio-emotionally. It doesn't have to be said that our students are struggling, or that despite the extreme level of resilience and strength they've demonstrated throughout the past few years they have more challenges now than ever before in their lives. As adults, we can support students by keeping (and increasing) school counselors in the schools; students rely on the people and positions they've grown up trusting, the people who have the training to work in the school and serve in the student-focused role, the people who are trained and experienced in supporting them mentally, academically, and with their post-secondary life in mind. However, providing alternative positions to the school counselor is not helping them, it's neglecting them. The number of school counselors needs to be increased, not swapped out. Thank you for your dedication to our students, Haden

Last Name: Parrish Locality: Fluvanna

Dear Subcommittee Members, my name is Haden Parrish and I am writing to express my strong opposition to HB829: School counselors; staffing ratios, flexibility. I am currently in my final semester of graduate school, earning my Master's degree in Human Development Counseling in the school counseling track. I take general classes in clinical mental health counseling but the majority of my classes are specialized for the school counseling track. Clinical counselors do incredible work and serve a noble and needed purpose, and yet their work and purpose are not the same as a school counselor's. I can speak first hand as to the life-saving training mental health counselors are receiving, but I can also speak to how what they are learning as mental health counselors will not prepare them to be adequate school counselors. While other mental health professionals work to support the socio-emotional needs of people, school counselors are specifically trained in three domains to support k-12 students: socio-emotional, academic, and college/career. School Counselors are the school's pillar of support to students and work to aid them from all educational angles. K-12 students can, and do, face challenges that overlap with many aspects of their life; a majority of student challenges are not just simply related to mental health, academics, or post-secondary opportunities, but likely interrelated to two or all three domains that school counselors specialize in. As an example, imagine the scenario of a student losing their parent during their junior year of high school. Immediately after the student returns to the school they will need socio-emotional support from the school community and specifically their counselor. But they will need more than that. They will need an advocate to reach out to their teachers, someone to have prepared recommendations for grief resources or tutors if needed, a facilitator to offer a grief support group for students with similar experiences, and, down the road, a reference to explain to job recruiters or college admissions offices why there should be leniency given to any discrepancies on the student's transcript that semester, not to mention to brag about the student's resilience and commitment to growth. "Other licensed counseling professionals" might be trained to support this hypothetical student in one aspect of their experience, but school counselors are trained and experienced in aiding that student in each of those ways and more because they will know the student's story and will be able to support holistically as opposed to just socio-emotionally. It doesn't have to be said that our students are struggling, or that despite the extreme level of resilience and strength they've demonstrated throughout the past few years they have more challenges now than ever before in their lives. As adults, we can support students by keeping (and increasing) school counselors in the schools; students rely on the people and positions they've grown up trusting, the people who have the training to work in the school and serve in the student-focused role, the people who are trained and experienced in supporting them mentally, academically, and with their post-secondary life in mind. However, providing alternative positions to the school counselor is not helping them, it's neglecting them. The number of school counselors needs to be increased, not swapped out. Thank you for your dedication to our students, Haden.

Last Name: Parker Locality: James City County

I am asking that you OPPOSE HB 829. School Counselors (holding VDOE licensure in School Counseling PreK-12) are specifically trained to provide all students with academic, career, social, emotional, and mental health support within the educational setting (which is significantly different from a clinical setting). All services provided in schools should be appropriate to the learning environment; those that are not risk being ineffective or even counterproductive. Just as children are not simply small adults, schools are not merely private clinics with white boards. Being trained to work within the school setting and learning context is essential to being effective (and cost effective). In addition to providing social/emotional and mental health services, school counselors are uniquely trained to provide K-12 students with academic career planning services and college & career readiness initiatives required by VA state law 8VAC20-131-140; 8VAC20-131-51, 8VAC20-131-60, etc., whereas this is not an area of training or education required for any other licensed counseling professionals in the state of Virginia. Counselors, like doctors, have different education, clinical training, and specialties, and I trust that you would not want to send your child to a family physician for a heart valve replacement. I also appreciate the House's ongoing support to increase student access to critical school counseling services, as was demonstrated when members voted in favor for HB1508 in the 2020 session to set the very same staffing ratios that we are now discussing. While I understand that the rationale for this bill is to combat "staffing shortages" in the area of school counseling, a VDOE study completed in 2021 indicated that school counselor vacancies were filled within 6 months for all but 4 school divisions (I believe there are 133 school divisions in VA). For those few divisions that are experiencing difficulties, there is already a VA Board of Education provision in licensure allowing for any school board to apply for a provisional license with an endorsement in school counseling for individuals who hold an active Licensed Professional Counseling (LPC) license, making this bill confusing and completely unnecessary. In sum, I urge you to continue providing VA's students with access to targeted, data-driven, comprehensive school counseling services provided by school counselors who have the specific education and training to provide these services within the educational setting.

End of Comments