Pennsylvania Lawmaker Calls for Training Teachers to Recognize Student Trauma Caused by Extended School Closures

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas:
July 10, 2021 Updated: July 10, 2021

A Pennsylvania lawmaker has drafted legislation to spend $50 million for training teachers to recognize and respond to students experiencing trauma in their homes and from COVID-19.

“According to experts, the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a traumatic experience, which only further contributes to trauma in many individuals, including children,” Democratic state Rep. Joe Ciresi said in a recent memo announcing the proposal.

“The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California found that many students described their current mental states as lonely, overwhelmed, and anxious at the height of the pandemic. For some students, school is a place to escape certain traumatic experiences at home, such as food insecurity, neglect, poverty, violence, etc. The pandemic only exacerbated these traumas when it temporarily shut down that safe-haven for many students.”

As written, the measure, House Bill 1713, would have enough funding to offer every Pennsylvania School District a minimum of $20,000 in grant money to train teachers.

Funding will be available to public, charter, career, and technical schools and nonpublic schools. It will not go to cyber charter schools.

“I think my colleagues understand the need for something like this,” Ciresi told The Epoch Times. “In the long run, we don’t know how children will be affected by COVID. We needed this before, but with COVID, we really need it now.”

The legislation was urged by Colleen Lelli, associate professor in the Educational Specialists Department at Cabrini University, who says children living through traumatic experiences may suffer mental and physical symptoms immediately or later in life.

Adverse childhood experiences are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse problems in adulthood, possibly affecting education, job opportunities, and earning potential.

“Teachers spend more time with children sometimes than parents. They are with the child eight hours a day,” Lelli told The Epoch Times. “This (training) helps teachers recognize if something is going on at home.”

Teachers would be trained to look for behaviors in students that could indicate they are experiencing trauma at home. Perhaps parents are going through divorce, addiction, food insecurity, domestic violence, or someone at home is undergoing serious medical treatments.

A child acting out in school may be labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder but may instead be responding to problems in the home.

“They are teachers, not therapists, but they can be trained on how can we use best practices and address some of these issues,” Lelli said. In some cases, it would mean helping families connect with services in the community. For example, families with a member experiencing mental illness may benefit from being connected to community mental health services.

The $50 million in funding would come from federal COVID-19 relief money through the American Rescue Plan. This funding won’t go on forever, but Ciresi hopes this legislation sparks some discussion about funding continued trauma-informed training for teachers or requiring mental health training as a requirement of Pennsylvania teaching degrees.

The newly proposed bill is in the House Education Committee.

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Reporter
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: