ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) -- Mental health experts have said they're concerned about the lack of counselors available to younger students in Rochester, including only one counselor for more than 8,500 elementary students last year.
Counselors need to work with younger students to help them gain social-emotional skills and identify mental health concern according to, Rochester Public Schools mental health services coordinator Denise Moody. Moody said the schools consider counselors to be "first responders" to concerns.
"Usually our school social workers will be kind of that next line," said Moody.
According to Moody, part of the reason for the lack of counselors is due to tight budgets and resulting cuts. With no other funding source, counselors end up competing with teaching positions for general fund dollars.
RPS only had one school counselor up until this year, and was funded with federal money instead of coming from district money.
"What really skews our numbers that we had one counselor for all elementary school kids," Moody said.
RPS has partnered with community organizations to bring in 13 mental health therapists that provide therapy in school buildings, said Moody. However, she said they are not district employees. She said the therapists do not take the place of counselors, who provide students with more proactive and broader social-emotional lessons and skills.
"I think counselors play an important role in being approachable and an easy way to have families and students to get the help they need before it's so serious that they need more extensive treatment," Moody said.
Neighboring states, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa have mandates that to have counselors at the K-8 and high school levels.
While it's encouraged to keep a healthy student-to-counselor ratio, Minnesota doesn't have mandates to fund and staff school counseling positions.