By Superintendent Addison Davis

To say that COVID-19 is having a tremendous impact on all aspects of the educational experience for learners across our nation would be an understatement. While we must work diligently to curb the spread of this virus, it is paramount that our district addresses the negative impact it has on the mental and emotional wellness of our students.

It is scientifically proven that learners with strong mental health support are more engaged in the classroom, thus more successful academically. As our students face unprecedented stressors in the wake of this pandemic, we will redouble our focus on supplying essential services for our most vulnerable populations.

For the first time ever, Hillsborough County Public Schools will have what is called a Mobile Response Team to address mental health emergencies for students during school hours. This team of licensed mental health professionals, in partnership with a local agency, is specially trained to work with those experiencing a mental health crisis and will be dispatched directly to a student in crisis for immediate evaluation to connect them with appropriate services.

Before engaging this specialized unit, district staff would collaborate with law enforcement and school-based teams to address the needs of a student experiencing an emergency such as suicidal thoughts; typically, the only solution was to consider a Baker Act for stabilization. Moving forward, our team will utilize de-escalation strategies as part of a more comprehensive assessment to connect students in need with ongoing services. We believe this multitiered system of supports more adequately serves our families and community, especially as we contend with negative mental health impacts of a worldwide health emergency.

We must remove all barriers to accessing mental health support for our families, especially in a culturally and socioeconomically diverse district of our size. The Mobile Response Team is one of many ways we stand ready to nurture and support the development of each child. This $1.4 million dollar investment will bolster our dedication to preparing each student for success, both in the classroom and in life.

I encourage parents to communicate with their children about feelings of anxiety and stress during this unprecedented time. Each school is equipped with trained mental health professionals who can help navigate through this uncertainty and provide a sense of hope and support. As a community, we must continue to prioritize mental wellness and invest in innovative systems to protect our learners and their future.

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