What students around the nation are thinking about school safety and mental health

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With mental health issues in the forefront in Florida after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a new nationwide survey is gauging what high school students across the country think about school safety, mental health services and the overall school environment.

Overall, 71 percent of 10th through 12th graders said they strongly agreed or agreed that they feel safe at school. The other 20 percent said they feel “somewhat safe,” according to a survey by the ACT company, which administers a well-known college entrance exam.

A sampling of 16,000 students participated in the survey following the national administration of the ACT exam in October 2018.

“The students in our survey rated their schools as generally safe but had diverse opinions and suggestions about how to improve school safety,” the ACT survey showed. “Overall, student responses highlighted a need for more mental health services.”

As to traveling to and from school, 88 percent of the students surveyed said they strongly agreed, or agreed, that they feel safe.

But inside their classrooms, the students were less positive.

For example, only 54 percent of the students said they strongly agreed or agreed that their teachers are “able to manage students who get out of control.” And only 43 percent of students said they strongly agreed or agreed that they treat teachers with respect at their schools.

Students surveyed also were asked about safety measures in place at their schools, with 84 percent of students reporting “cameras inside” their schools. Only 44 percent of students reported mental health services at their schools.

The survey suggested recommendations based on the student responses, including that state and federal funding should be provided to expand and promote mental health services in schools.

Florida is now requiring that public school districts provide at least five hours of mental health instruction annually to students in 6th through 12th grades, with topics ranging from suicide prevention and substance abuse to mental health disorders, access to treatment and how to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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