The leaders responded to a growing number of violent incidents
On April 6, Councilors Julia Mejia and Erin Murphy filed a hearing order on a mental health curriculum in Boston Public Schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association stated that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health is a national emergency. According to a media release, “The hearing was filed in response to a number of incidents which have occurred on or near school property, including the shooting which took place outside of TechBoston Academy and loaded guns found at the Dearborn STEM Academy and the Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8 School. The goal of the hearing is to identify pathways towards teaching mental health and wellness as a part of the health curriculum in Boston Public Schools.”
Mejia and Murphy gave statements on the order:
“Since even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been dealing with a pandemic in our Boston Public Schools around mental health and wellness,” said Mejia on Wednesday. “Every day, students are being asked to leave their trauma at the door so that they can focus on their studies. And recently, we have seen how that untreated trauma has spilled over in our schools and out on these streets.”
“As a Boston Public School teacher for over twenty years I understand first hand how critical mental health and wellness is for our children,” said Murphy, co-sponsor of the hearing order. “By incorporating Mental Health into our curriculum we are taking a healthy, holistic approach toward education and fostering an environment which addresses a wider range of our children’s needs. I am eager to work with my colleagues in creating a BPS experience which meets children where they are and brings our children the greatest chance of success.”
Other leaders, like Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, commented on the urgent need for mental health services.
“Our young people are struggling right now, having endured challenging and traumatic experiences in their homes and communities, inequities with access to learning and a lack of crucial support services,” said Smith. “A generation of young people, many of color, are bearing the weight of this pandemic and we must take affirmative steps to prioritize and address the underlying needs that they bring to the schoolhouse door every morning, so that they can focus on learning and making academic progress. The trauma and adversity that our youth have faced has taken a toll, and at times will lead to them being short tempered, emotional or prone to acting out or making bad decisions. The same old punitive approaches that punish and blame youth without addressing their mental health challenges are not the answer. We cannot sanction, punish and arrest our way out of a mental health crisis. We must focus on therapeutic and restorative approaches, embedded in our schools and curriculum, that serve the needs of the whole child.”
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.