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Guest Opinion

Focus on students’ mental health — not culture wars


Most parents know that the mental health and well-being of our children is essential to their academic success and their futures in general. That’s why it’s vital the Central Bucks School District has a school board that prioritizes resources to support student mental health rather than divisive political culture wars that harm student welfare.

It has been long established by both psychology and educational science that students’ mental and emotional needs must first be met before they can focus on learning. Over the last several years, more schools and educational professionals have focused on meeting the widespread mental health needs among students. We want our kids to come to class and focus on learning, and we simply cannot do that without considering all the variables that impact their ability to do so.

As someone who values data-driven policy and decisions, it’s important for me to highlight the facts when it comes to mental health in students:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six children between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder annually, and 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 14. High school students with significant symptoms of depression are twice as likely to drop out, compared to their peers. And, students aged 6 to 17 with mental, emotional or behavioral concerns are three times more likely to repeat a grade.

According to the United States Surgeon General, the declining mental health of children is the “defining public health crisis of our time.”

As a nurse practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in patient care and advocacy, I understand the full magnitude — and dangers — of this mental health crisis among our young people. As a mother, I know the invaluable role that our schools can play in supporting students dealing with mental health challenges.

Unfortunately, the current Central Bucks School Board majority and administration are not prioritizing solutions for the mental health crisis facing our students. In fact, creating divisive policies and spending money defending accusations that our school environment is not a healthy one for marginalized students has been their focus. In the meantime, they have spent over $1 million in taxpayer money on hiring right-wing lawyers and crisis PR firms to defend their misguided decisions, when we could have spent those dollars on support staff, counselors, and programming to help our students.

The current slate of far-right Republican school board candidates, including current CBSD School Board President Dana Hunter, all appeared in the Bucks County Moms for Liberty Voter Guide.

Not only does Moms for Liberty stand firmly against mental and physical health care for students, but it was recently designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-government extremist group.

If elected, we can expect these candidates to continue more of the same, dysfunctional leadership we have sadly come to expect in Central Bucks.

To say mental health and public education are not inextricably linked is erroneous, careless and harmful. As a community and as parents, we value the health and well-being of our children, and we know our schools have a duty to help and support them — especially in the midst of this unprecedented, exploding mental health crisis.

Our students deserve a school board that prioritizes their needs instead of making our children pawns for their partisan politics. I hope you’ll join me on Nov. 7 and support compassionate, commonsense candidates to benefit our schools, our community, and especially our students in Central Bucks.

Dana Foley is a Central Bucks School Board candidate in Region 3.

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