Mental Health Training for Teachers Is Up for Debate

by Matthew Post ‘18

After facing opposition in 2016, a bill has reemerged in the state legislature that would require mental health recognition training for all Maryland school personnel. In its first committee hearing, 10 individuals, ranging from students to health professionals, spoke in favor of the legislation. No speaker testified in opposition.

Lauryn’s Law, formally titled House Bill 0920, is named after the deceased daughter of Linda Diaz, who is now a vocal proponent of mental health awareness. The first version of the law was passed in 2015 and required all Maryland counselors to be trained in detecting mental health concerns in students. In 2016, sponsor Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo unsuccessfully sought to expand that training to all school staff members.

“Last year my Board voted in opposition to this bill,” remarked MCPS Legislative Aide Tricia Swanson at the hearing. “It was a rather difficult vote for them to make because they agreed so much with the intent of the legislation.” Swanson noted that the Board’s concerns stemmed from the bill’s unfunded mandate and the precedent it would set in regards to local versus state control. Swanson went on to say that after seeing how strongly Montgomery County student groups supported the legislation, “there was a real desire from the Board to work with the delegate to amend the bill to something we could support.”

Those amendments put the funding burden on the governor instead of local counties, specifically who fits under “school personnel,” and loosen specific guidelines for what the mental health training entails.

While such vagueness is intended to make the legislation palatable for school boards, Delegates Eric Ebersole and Anne Kaiser expressed concern at the lack of concrete standards, questioning if something as small as a 10-minute video could suffice under the legislation. Emphasizing the importance of local control in passing the bill, Fraser-Hidalgo conceded that “we crawl, we walk, we run, and this is the crawling part.”

Many other delegates in the committee reacted positively to the legislation, including Delegate Eric Luedtke, who spoke of his own anxiety and of family members that have taken their lives. “This is a great concept and I believe in it,” added Delegate Teresa Reilly.

Diaz, who was present at the hearing, is optimistic about the bill’s chances of passing. “To lose my daughter to suicide is a life sentence of grief that I would never want another parent to witness or endure,” she explained. “This bill can require the training needed for prevention and awareness, which is key to creating a better future for our kids.”