School Counselors: Endangered Species?
BESE votes to change role of school counselors
A recent vote by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education could change the way state high schools handle counseling services.
A committee voted to allow students to use outside services instead of hiring full-time in-school guidance counselors.
"Sometimes, depending on what is the background to it, the school might be the safest place for them [to find help]," says Benton High School guidance counselor Shawn Gray. "It might be where they feel the most comfortable to seek out those people."
A recent decision from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, BESE, could change the way public schools handle counseling, allowing parish-level administrators to subcontract those services to outside organizations.
"I think it would have a huge impact, in a negative way, if the counselor ratio was reduced because of all the roles that they play," says Mitch Downey, Benton High School Principal. "They wear so many hats and provide so many services for different students in all areas."
The recommended change comes from State Superintendent of Education John White. He said in a statement that schools districts should be able to use partnerships, vendors, part-time staff and other, along with full-time counselors. This is expected to give school districts more control over their budget and eliminate red tape.
"We thought that it was probably the most counter-intuitive item that we had ever heard," says Red River United President Jackie Lansdale, who represents Caddo and Bossier Parish teachers and schools employees.
Lansdale says given recent events like the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting it makes sense to bolster guidance counselor's part in school life, rather than diminish their role.
"It became very evident- I think to everybody in this nation- that we had a mental health crisis." Lansdale adds, "Some people say, 'Its a national crisis.' Well, we're part of the nation. We start here with ourselves to say, 'We believe when something is inherently wrong, we have a moral imperative to step up and to point it out."
Gray says students are her first priority. She fears using outside counseling services instead of the current familiar faces could prevent troubled students from seeking help and allow them to slip through the cracks.
"I think they're more likely to seek out that information and go to the people that have gotten to know and become more comfortable with than someone who is outsourced or using other resources," Gray says.
Superintendent John White's original plan sought to eliminate the current requirement of one counselor for every 450 students in state high schools. A BESE committee decided to keep the current ratio but voted 7-2 for a compromise to allow for the outside counseling sources.
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