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HARRISBURG, PA (May 8, 2019) – Legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly will ensure that students have greater access to school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers in the commonwealth’s public schools.
House Bill 1401, sponsored by Reps. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) and Tom Murt (R-Montgomery), requires school districts to employ at least:
House Bill 1409, sponsored by Rep. James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia), requires districts to employ at least one school nurse for every 750 students.
Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) plans to introduce legislation in the state Senate setting similar pupil services professional staffing ratios.
Current law requires one school nurse for every 1,500 students and sets no requirements for school counselors, psychologists, or social workers. The ratios set forth in the new legislation reflect the recommendations of professional associations, including PSEA.
Cheryl Mattern, a certified school nurse in the Central York School District and the 2019 Pennsylvania School Nurse of the Year, views the bills as a move in the right direction for the students of Pennsylvania.
“Certified school nurses improve student attendance by promoting good health, preventing disease, and managing student illnesses,” Mattern said. “Improving the ratio of school nurses to students will create better health outcomes in our schools, and that means more healthy students are in the classroom and ready to learn.”
Judy Morgitan, a certified school nurse in the Perkiomen Valley School District who has served as the president of both PSEA’s Department of Pupil Services and the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners, said the bills will help schools better address the academic needs of students.
Morgitan, who served on Gov. Tom Wolf’s School Safety Taskforce last year, also noted that increasing the number of school counselors and mental health professionals was one of the major recommendations to come out of the task force.
“Students cannot learn if they are struggling with social, emotional, or other health needs,” Morgitan said. “This legislation is designed to make sure students have access to a school counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker to get the services they need to be successful in the classroom.”
Rich Askey, a Harrisburg music teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, joined state House lawmakers today to discuss this legislation and other bills to address student wellness and enhance school safety.
“There are students in every school in Pennsylvania who struggle with physical and emotional health,” Askey said. “Those students need support and encouragement, and we need to make sure that highly trained professionals are on hand to provide it.
“Some students have mental health and social needs that extend well beyond the scope of classroom teachers and support professionals. School counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers partner with teachers and support staff to help those students reach their full potential.
“These bills will help provide students with the support they need and protect everyone in the school environment.’’
In addition to establishing ratios for school professionals who support student wellness, the proposed legislation also calls for certification of school social workers, which PSEA has supported for the past decade.
An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 181,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.