Pa. Act The House of Representatives would make mental health training mandatory for high school sports coaches

A bill pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would mandate mental health training for high school athletic trainers.

The Bill would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to review mental health resources and create curriculum for school officials. It would also require Pennsylvania schools to send students, parents and staff a list of mental health resources twice a year. However, it does not provide a mechanism for financing these initiatives.

“We expect our school officials to support our children,” state Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), the bill’s lead author, said at a press conference in Harrisburg on Monday. “As we face today’s issues, it is critical that we stay connected to resources so our teachers and coaches can do their jobs.”

The House Education Committee approved the bill on May 7 by a 15-10 vote, with all Democrats and one Republican voting in favor. House Democrats plan to bring the bill to a vote by the full House “in the near future,” according to Elizabeth Rementer, a spokeswoman for House Democrats.

State Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), the top Republican on the committee and an opponent of the measure, said that while there is a mental health crisis among students, requiring coaches to undergo training would be unnecessary.

“I think we always have to be careful about adding more requirements when we already have a shortage of coaches, teachers and counselors,” Topper, a longtime high school football coach at Bedford High School, told the Capital-Star. “These are people who are already very invested in the mental health and well-being of their students and student-athletes.”

Another Republican on the panel expressed concern that the bill would give the Secretary of Health broad authority to decide whether parents should provide the Department of Health with additional, unspecified information about their children’s mental health. Topper additionally disagreed with the potential employ of the law to require Pennsylvania health and education authorities to provide mental health resources.

“These are very powerful bureaucracies that already have a lot of resources at their disposal,” Topper said. “If they see a need, they can do it.”

Daley’s original version of the bill was drafted by one of her summer interns, Mekkai Williams, a freshman at Temple University and former student-athlete. Williams said he experienced mental problems after injuring his knee while playing football his junior year of high school.

“The physical pain was great, but the mental anguish was worse,” Williams said at a news conference. “It wasn’t just an injury, it was the loss of my identity, my team and everything I had worked so hard for.”

That sentiment was shared at the press conference by other current and former student-athletes who were sidelined due to injuries.

Williams based on the original version of the bill on Act of 2012 which requires trainers to complete sudden cardiac arrest training courses. Kevin Lawrence, a government teacher at Susquehannock High School and baseball coach who supported the bill at a news conference, compared providing mental health training to providing AED training. He considered himself and other coaches to be “first responders” to mental health issues facing youth.

“It’s very common that I know everything before the parents of these kids because they don’t want to tell mom and dad, but they will tell the coach,” Lawrence said after the news conference.

The bill is the latest in a string of mental health bills approved by the House Education Committee this year. IN voting along party lines committee in January approved the bill that it will be allow students to take up to three mental health days during the school year without a medical certificate. Panel again with only Democrat votesalso approved a Bill in March, “it would require schools to develop a robust and comprehensive school counseling plan,” says a note introduction of the measure.

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