Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, New York state schools must include instruction in mental health as part of their health education curriculum pursuant to recently amended state law and regulations.
In May 2018, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents adopted amendments to Commissioner’s Regulations §§135.1 and 135.3 to comply with recent amendments to Education Law §804. These changes require health education programs to include instruction in mental health to improve students’ understanding of “health, well-being and human dignity.” To supplement these changes, NYSED recently released a guidance document, “Mental Health Education Literacy in Schools: Linking to a Continuum of Well-Being.”
NYSED’s guidance document provides a framework for delivering the mental health curriculum at the early elementary (kindergarten through second grade), late elementary (third through fifth grade), intermediate (sixth through eighth grade) and commencement/high school (ninth through twelfth grade) levels. Elementary-aged students should receive instruction by their classroom teachers, whereas secondary students must be taught by a certified health educator.
School counselors play a vital role in addressing the mental health needs of students. The guidance document, therefore, provides much-needed guidance on the role of school counselors in fostering mental health wellness.
Students are to receive developmentally appropriate instruction at each level in the areas of self-management, relationships, and resource management. Self-management refers to a student’s ability to navigate self-awareness skills and implement self-management strategies that are crucial for mental health. It includes instruction in self-care, resiliency, and feelings. The curriculum promotes positive and healthy relationships through the development of communication skills; empathy, compassion, and acceptance; and gratitude and forgiveness. Resource management develops skills related to utilizing personal and community resources to assist with mental health, including knowing how and when to ask for help for self and others.
The guidance document includes a sample policy on integrating mental health education into the school curriculum, although school districts are not required to adopt such a policy. NYSED also provides guidance on incorporating mental health wellness into the overall school climate and collaborating with local community resources. These new requirements and recommendations for supporting mental health instruction are consistent with increased efforts to support social-emotional learning through positive behavioral interventions and supports in schools.
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