Save ASD Student Health, Mental Health and IGNITE services: reject the proposed budget cuts
To whom it May Concern, Feb 10, 2020
We, the parents and community members of Anchorage School District, reject the budget proposals made by ASD administration to the Anchorage School Board. ASD’s proposed cuts for 2020-2021, totaling $19.5 million, are inadequate to meet basic and real student needs of ASD’s diverse student population, and will cause clear, long-term, and costly harm to individual students, their families, and the State of Alaska.
Instead of capitulating to those who think only of the short term, we strongly request additional funding from Alaska Legislature (instead of their 3 year flat funding), to meet the following real needs of ASD students -with special regard to at-risk students- and similarly request Deena Bishop and her Administration to spend those funds wisely, with priority to cutting Administrative positions first, before cutting the following indispensible areas of crucial need:
- Health: Certified Health teachers, who are dedicated to teach a sequential course of health education to all students must be retained in the current bi-monthly schedule. Elementary Health educators who have passed the Praxis exam—not librarians trained in library science or maximized classroom teachers who already have less time to teach added curriculum—must continue teaching basic principles of personal safety, hygiene and human development to all students. Health instructors with ongoing professional development and credentialing, not other ASD employees, must continue to inform students about the crucial links between smoking, drugs, vaping, alcohol, food choices, risky behaviors and diseases like alcoholism, obesity, STD’s, Type II Diabetes, cancer and addiction. Finally, and especially, in a state with high rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence, regularly teaching basic bullying and abuse prevention programs are indispensible; programs such as “Good Touch/Bad touch” (where in some cases this is the only opportunity for a child to recognize the mal-treatment they are receiving from trusted adults) is crucial, in addition to working as a team with the school counselor for other foundational mental health supports.
- Mental Health: We recognize the increased urgent need for a Full time school counselor in every Elementary School and for their input on increased mental health instruction taught within the protected health curriculum. (The trauma and crisis that a large number of ASD students regularly experience are not scheduled in accordance with a-week-on-week-off counselor availability). We also recognize the crucial need for an expanded corps of high school counselors (1:250 ratio as recommended by ASCA) to address increasing adolescent mental health risks such as: suicide, self harm, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and cyber bullying.
- IGNITE: The current weekly program serves the real needs of gifted elementary students and fulfills the Alaska State mandate to provide services for Gifted and talented students to be taught in the least restrictive environment for children in every Elementary school. (The needs of gifted students are distinct, requiring longitudinal projects of deeper and sustained engagement than can be offered in the general classroom and cannot be addressed under the current restructuring plan). Cutting this program will negatively affect these students’ academic outcomes, and may persuade their families to leave the district entirely.
- Finally, we ask priority be made to become a “Trauma-informed” district to address one of the biggest deterrents to learning and most overlooked ROOT causes of our state’s low reading scores; the extraordinarily high ACE’s scores of youth in Alaska. Research has found that children living in domestic violent situations; dealing with sexual, verbal or physical abuse, can not turn off their brain’s fight or flight response which bathe the brain in cortisol to survive these chronic traumas, making it physiologically impossible to focus or think clearly –or learn to read- without trauma informed interventions. Studies have also shown that creating trauma informed plans within schools for children to process trauma, dramatically increases learning (reading) abilities, decreases behavior problems, and overall sets kids up for greater success in life. See references
In summary, we the parents, declare it is unacceptable to require teachers to provide these services they are not certified to teach, nor have enough planning or quality teaching time to provide science and social studies, let alone Reading and Math to their increasing classroom sizes (and thus increasing behavior problems with increasing mental health needs). We the parents, ask the ASD school board to not accept the proposed budget without first listening to parent’s suggestions in a future forum, of where to cut the budget. We also ask ASD administration along with the school board to actively discuss the district’s real financial straights with legislators themselves in Juneau.
References: “The Deepest Well” By Nadine Burke Harris MD
“Trauma-Sensitive Schools” By Susan E Craig PhD
Miss Kendra Program @traumainformedschools.org
National Association for Gifted Children: nagc.org
American School Counselor Association: schoolcounselor.org