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Bill To Create Mental Health ‘Break Spaces’ Fails To Advance

School with tree in front
Front entrance of Carver Elementary School in Richmond. (Photo by Crixell Matthews/VPM)

A bill that would’ve allowed schools to create mental health “break spaces” in public schools failed to advance out of subcommittee Wednesday.

Freshman Democratic Delegate Ibraheem Samirah said he had a lot of energy when he was younger. Sometimes, he’d even get in trouble because of it.

“I myself have always had this need to move in the classroom, to leave the classroom. I always asked to be taken out of the classroom [if I needed to leave]. I would ask politely,” Samirah said. “Most of my teachers understood that.”

Samirah introduced a bill this session to require schools to create a separate space for students to go to, to calm down if they need to.

“I would imagine the space would be close to other medical services, just in case,” Samirah said. “It would be near to the mental health counselor if the school does have a mental health counselor.”

He says he wouldn’t want the space to resemble a seclusion room. On Wednesday, after concerns from groups about creating an unfunded mandate, the bill was tailored to make it optional, not required. 

Jim Council, a lobbyist for Prince William County Public Schools, said many schools don’t have the space or staff needed to fulfill the bill’s request of schools.

“We’ve seen no indication that the state is prepared to help us with either the facilities or staffing costs,” Council said.

Those concerns were echoed by the Virginia School Boards Association, and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

“We have a mental health crisis, we’re doing everything we can to address it, we have limited resources,” said Stacy Haney, chief lobbyist for the Virginia School Board Association. “I would suggest that this, while well-intentioned, is not the best use of those resources that we do have to address the mental health crisis.”

 That version of the bill will be reconsidered next year.

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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