Detroit youth hold a “die-in” to demand more school counselors
A group of Detroit area high school students, organized as the 482Forward Youth Organizing Collective, hosted a “Die-In” at Martin Luther King High School on Saturday, April 16th. The protest and accompanying press conference drew attention to the shortage of school counselors amid an unprecedented mental health crisis among children and young people.
The students chanted, “Mental health is a human right; Fund our advisors, do what’s right,” holds signs that read, “It’s life or death for us.” Then they lay on the concrete in silence for eleven minutes to underscore the appalling lack of counselors.
At last census in 2019, Michigan’s ratio of mental health professionals to students was the second-worst in the US, with one counselor for every 691 students. Only Arizona had a higher ratio.
Almost half of all K-12 schools in Michigan, 400 out of 900, did not have a full-time counselor at the time of the 2019 study. This condition predated the pandemic, but COVID has dramatically increased the growth of depression and anxiety — and grief in particular — in the population.
Under the influence of the ruling elites’ “herd immunity” policies of mass deaths and infections, depression diagnoses have reportedly tripled, with a disproportionate impact on those on lower incomes. More than 200,000 American children have now lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, one of the most stressful events a child can experience.
During the dying, several students spoke about the impact the lack of mental health services in the schools is having on them. A freshman at Lincoln Park High School, Stacy Gonzales, told the group, “This problem touches us very deeply. We do it not need more funding for policing our schools. We face a daily roller coaster of emotions. Our health is at stake and we need to be taken seriously.” She shared her personal crisis of family issues and the difficulty of sharing this with the school counselor. But after just 15 minutes, the adviser had to move on, Gonzales told protesters.
Denby High School student Louis Mason echoed the point: “I fight. Mental health plays an important role in our schools. It is very sad that we do not have access to actual help. We all struggle with barely having the energy to get out of there because of… the struggles we face behind closed doors. I am a victim of all of this.”
“It comes down to not having enough professionals in our buildings to proactively help students,” Terri Tchorzynski, president of the Michigan School Counselor Association, told the Michigan ahead. Tchorzynski said the shortage was due to a lack of funding, not a lack of consultant availability.
The American School Counselor Association recommends that states use one counselor for every 250 students, a standard that’s only so 14 percent of schools are currently meeting nationally, according to education week. Nearly 40 percent of all school districts with 5.4 million enrolled students also did not have a school psychologist in the first full year of the pandemic. Only 8 percent of districts met the National Association of School Psychologists’ recommended ratio of one school psychologist to every 500 students.
“If a student needs a counselor or psychological support and none is available, then our state government has failed that student. This lack of support means more problems for all students, lower academic performance and, unfortunately, can lead to tragic outcomes,” added Emily Gonzalez, also a Lincoln Park High School student.
Tragedies have become all too commonplace. Last December, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley carried out a mass shooting at his high school in the Oxford suburb of Detroit. The event, itself a reflection of a broken mental health system and a deep-seated social crisis, has further traumatized students across the greater area. Nationwide, nearly half of school and district leaders said their school or district was receiving more threats of violence from students than they did in the fall of 2019, according to a EdWeek survey last December.
State and national governments’ approach of letting the pandemic rage, refusing to close schools and demanding all available mitigation measures amounts to criminal “abandonment of children” – often defined as “a failure to provide adequate care”. contains. Not surprisingly, a survey of high school students found that 44 percent felt “persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021, with 37 percent suffering from “poor mental health” during the pandemic. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, behind only traffic fatalities.
The dying served to launch a petition campaign sponsored by the Democratic Party 482Forward calling for doubling the number of school counselors and mental health support in the state. The petition calls for a $300 million commitment from the state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
But this petition, like many similar iterations by students in the US, will fall on deaf ears. The governor’s current budget proposal falls far short of 482Forward’s already inadequate requirement of just $120 million for mental health professionals, up from a disastrous $53.9 million in fiscal 2022.
According to the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan (CMHAM), Michigan’s mental health system has suffered “deaths by a thousand cuts” over the years at the hands of both Democratic and Republican politicians. As a result, the state under-resources opioid crisis support, suicide prevention, autism services, mental health crises and public health services through Medicaid, a recent CMHAM report pointed out.
In contrast, the state coffers for the “Detroit Three” automakers were always wide open. The enormous sums being handed out to the corporate elite expose the sums being asked for mental health as mere handouts.
Whitmer’s new budget proposal adds a whopping $500 million to the $1 billion Soar (Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve) fund for large corporations. More than $666 million of these funds were made available to General Motors last January. That’s on top of the $2.28 billion in tax credits lawmakers approved for the profitable company in 2020.
Young people who are demanding their right to mental health care, well-funded schools and comprehensive services should not be fooled by corporate-funded organizations like 482Forward, a front of the Democratic Party and labor unions.
The “collective” exists to promote the age-old illusion that Democrats can be pressured into reform. It organizes meetings with state legislators and lobbying to co-opt and recruit potential “youth candidates” for Capitalist Party politics. None of these initiatives have had – nor ever will – the slightest impact on the ongoing defunding of education or the lavish payouts to the corporate elite.
Biden, along with the entire political establishment, has cynically claimed that protecting children’s mental health is a key reason for the reckless reopening of schools during the pandemic. Yet Biden’s most recent fiscal 2022 spending bill has significantly cut funding for education, providing only a meager increase in funding for student mental health without adequately funding the necessary mental health services that students across the United States need.
Make no mistake, there is no way forward beyond the two big business political parties. Having managed more COVID deaths than Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and the Democrats are now waging a war against Russia, a nuclear power, and preparing for World War III. Domestically, the financial elite are waging a bipartisan class war of austerity, disease and increasing exploitation of workers and youth.
Just months ago, students at King High School went out to call for COVID safety, with student protests continuing across the country. It is time to unite the fight for a future free from war, poverty, climate change and pandemic with the struggles of the breaking out workers worldwide.
Young people must learn the necessary lessons from the impasse of capitalist politics and make the decision to join the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) to fight for a socialist future. To move this fight forward, we urge you to join the May Day online meeting!