MA Survey Finds Students With Emotional Needs Increasing

The Massachusetts Youth Health Survey (YHS), provided to students in grades 6-12, is conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in randomly selected public middle and high schools biannually. DESE and DPH have just released the most recent statistics (available here), from a survey conducted in 2015, which shows an overall increase in students reporting emotional needs.

At a recent Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) conference, I presented about the importance of public school districts supporting students with emotional needs and authored an article on the subject. During the presentation, I discussed the 2013 YHS statistics – the most up to date statistics available at the time – and that nonprofits and special education attorneys have seen an increase over the years in calls about students who are not receiving appropriate services in school. Attorneys on both sides of special education disputes, educational experts, and advocates will not be surprised to learn about the increasing number of students reporting emotional needs in the 2015 statistics.

The 2015 YHS data shows an increase in high school students who reported feeling “sad or hopeless.” In 2013, 23.8% of high school students surveyed reported feeling “so sad or depressed daily for at least two weeks during the previous year that they discontinued usual activities.” In 2015, the percentage increased to 27.4% – the highest percentage reported since 2003.

In 2013, 12% of high school students surveyed reported that they “seriously considered attempting suicide” during the 12 months before the survey. In 2015, that percentage increased to 14.9% – also, the highest percentage reported since 2003.

Statistics also show an increase in the number of high school students who “made a plan about how they would attempt suicide” and those that attempted suicide.

As I wrote in the article for MCLE, entitled A Student’s Right to Emotional Progress:

The legal requirement for public school districts to provide appropriate services to students with emotional needs is well settled in Massachusetts. However, ‘what is old is new again’ as legislators, policy makers, hearing officers, and advocates continue to remind school districts of this important obligation. 

In recent years, research about the significant impact of emotional well-being on both immediate and long-term learning has gained traction in Massachusetts, influencing legislative and policy reform. Data suggests that this momentum might also be fostered by the volume of calls and complaints by families whose children with emotional challenges are not well supported by their local school districts …

The mandate to evaluate and provide appropriate services to students who have emotional needs is clear, and the importance of doing so in a timely and effective way is critical.

Click below to download the full text of my MCLE article.

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