Friday, August 04, 2023

Moms for Liberty says no to mental health care in schools, but it's Florida law. (GANNETT/Tallahassee Democrat)

This Astroturf group is too busy feeling its oats and throwing its weight around to give a fig about kids. The mental health crisis in schools requires mental health help in schools.  This time, they are attacking Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS, who signed the legislation that they hate.  This will not go well for them -- Moms for Liberty may soon find itself on DeSANTIS's hit list, or hate list, along with Disney. 

From GANETT/Tallahassee Democrat:

Moms for Liberty says no to mental health care in schools, but it's Florida law

“Mental health care is health care Mr. President. That’s why it has NO place in public schools. #ParentalRights,” Moms for Liberty posted on social media.

Ana Goñi-Lessan
Tallahassee Democrat 

Moms for Liberty has been a vocal supporter of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his attempt to win the GOP nomination for president – both the governor and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz were guest speakers at the group’s national convention in June.

But Moms for Liberty’s latest item in their parents’ rights agenda collides with the state’s, including DeSantis’, position on mental health in schools.

In a social media post last week, Moms for Liberty wrote “Health care has no place in public schools,” as a response to President Joe Biden announcing his new strategy to improve mental health care by adding more providers and expanding access.

“Mental health care is health care Mr. President. That’s why it has NO place in public schools. #ParentalRights,” Moms for Liberty also posted.

In Florida, mental health care has been a top bipartisan priority since 2018, when a shooter killed 17 children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Moms for Liberty National Summit in Tampa on July 15, 2022, Florida.

"From the MSD Public Safety Act, a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation which provides unprecedented levels of funding for mental health in public schools, to our First Lady's Hope for Healing initiative, which focuses on addressing our kids' mental health and preventing substance abuse – we've made clear students' mental health and well-being is a shared concern and a priority which transcends party lines," said Sen. Lauren Book-D, Davie.

But the push to fund mental health initiatives has frustrated Moms for Liberty-Sarasota County Chapter Chair Alexis Spiegelman and other conservative parents who consider mental health care as another version of social emotional learning (SEL) and are campaigning to remove it from schools.

In the last few years, SEL, which teaches skills such as self-awareness, empathy and resilience, has been linked to academic concepts like critical race theory and has been labeled by conservatives as “woke indoctrination." In Florida, the department of education has recently distanced itself from SEL and rebranded it as "resiliency," but Spiegelman said it's all semantics.

"Many families feel our 'conservative majority' is not listening to the very people that helped get them elected," said Spiegelman, who clarified she only speaks for her county's chapter, not the national organization. "The Florida Legislature along with the governor are not helping matters. They are actively pushing SEL indoctrination into our schools and community through the recent legislation and additional state funding."

Florida school districts are required to have mental health care under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The half-billion dollar package, signed into law by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, had a threefold focus: addressing gun laws, school safety and mental health.

Since then, the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Education have shored up the measure and passed more mental health requirements. For example last year, DeSantis signed a law that requires school districts to certify that at least 80% of school personnel have received youth mental health awareness training. 

“Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment,” DeSantis said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

According to DOE's “resiliency & mental health resources," section on its website, every Florida public school is required to provide students in grades 6-12 at least five hours of mental health instruction each year.

A priority of First Lady Casey DeSantis, Mental Health Instruction was renamed to Resiliency Education, Civic and Character Education, and Life Skills Education in 2022, but the term "mental health" is still used throughout the page of resources.

“Building resiliency for Florida’s students and families is a top priority of the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, Florida is on the forefront to ensure all students have the necessary skills and resources to see them through life’s successes and challenges.,” the website states.

One chapter says mental health in school fuels 'leftist agenda'

Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents’ rights group, exploded onto Florida's political scene in 2021 with combative protests against school mask mandates.  In the two years since, the group has gained members across the state and the nation, packing school board meetings with public comment about booksLGBTQ guidesand sex education.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis, center, is presented "The Sword of Liberty" by Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice, left, Tina Descovich, second from the right, and executive director of program outreach Marie Rogerson, far right, during the first Moms for Liberty National Summit on Thursday, July 15, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. The convention continues through Sunday, July 17th with conservative speakers and strategy sessions for members.

The Moms for Liberty national organization did not return USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida's request for comment about the tweet and its position on mental health care.

The DeSantis administration has endorsed Moms for Liberty members in school board races across the state. In Sarasota, Moms for Liberty-backed candidates helped overturn the ideological makeup of the school board, where a new, conservative-leaning board took over and immediately moved to fire the sitting superintendent Brennan Asplen.

Sarasota Schools board chair Bridget Ziegler, a Moms for Liberty member, was also appointed by the governor to the controversy-filled Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board, which was created to oversee the governance of Walt Disney World after the entertainment megacompany publicly opposed his so-called "Don't Say Gay" legislation.

“2024 is going to be the year when the parents across this country finally fight back,” DeSantis said in June to a crowd of Moms for Liberty members. “Now it can be done, because I can tell you in Florida, we have shown what winning looks like.”

Campaign signs for Florida Gov. Ron Desantis are passed out before the start of the first Moms for Liberty National Summit on Thursday, July 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. The convention continues through Sunday, July 17th with conservative speakers and strategy sessions for members.

Spiegelman said the reality in her school district is not what shows up in the headlines.

"We are very disappointed that what was promised during the campaign is NOT at all happening in our district," she wrote in a text.

In a recent Sarasota Moms for Liberty chapter newsletter, the organization calls out state and county leadership for bringing "even more Social Emotional Learning into our school under the guise of 'mental health.'"

"It appears that the leftist agenda has not skipped a beat as the permanent administrative state (who outlast any figurehead change on the Board) marched on unobstructed by our 'new Board' with their continued sexualization and alienation of children from families.

"This agenda is aided by the Florida State Legislature, Governor Ron DeSantis, and First Lady Casy (sic) DeSantis's 'Resiliency Toolkit.'"

Tonja Fitzgerald, the mental health coordinator for Leon County Schools, said she has not heard from parents who say they don’t want mental health care in schools. If anything, she’s been told the opposite: they want more.

When asked for a comment, Leon County's Moms for Liberty chapter president Priscilla West said she does not speak for the national organization.

"I only speak for my chapter," she wrote in an email. "I'll try to familiarize myself with the context or specific story behind that tweet."

A mental health crisis among students?

Local mental health counselors in Leon County say students are experiencing more anxiety since the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "more than 4 in 10 (42% of high school students) felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health in 2021. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide."

The state requires every school district to develop policies and procedures to involve mental health professionals if a student is in crisis, which could include an involuntary mental health examination, said Fitzgerald, who has been the mental health coordinator in Leon County since 2018.

An involuntary examination, also known as a Baker Act, allows doctors, mental health professionals, judges and law enforcement to commit someone for psychiatric evaluation, and can be done either voluntarily or involuntarily.

About 12% of involuntary examinations of children during the 2021-2022 fiscal year were initiated in schools, according to researchers at the University of South Florida.

Leon County has seen a rise in the number of Baker Acts among its students, and in 2020-2021, the state also saw an increase in involuntary examinations in children.

In 2021-2022, that number dropped 11%. According the USF research, the decrease in involuntary examinations could be attributed to additional funding of mobile response teams, a part of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas act.

“I have dealt with parents who have reached out to us, to the schools, who needed help,” Fitzgerald said. “The parents that I hear from are grateful that we are assisting with this.”

Ana Goñi-Lessan is the State Watchdog Reporter for USA TODAY- Florida and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those idiots said no to their own mental health care.. that's the problem. Now they want to make everyone else crazy. Also, they want control... don't want anyone to help anyone but them. But what they'll do is manipulate their kids and wear them like a backpack for life if they can.