A local father counts a half-dozen teen suicides in recent memory in the Bend-La Pine Schools, at both the middle school and high school levels. Classmates, parents, teachers, and the families of the deceased will never forget these students, and it underscores a dire situation. Cuts to counseling services in our school district that happened during the recession have not been reinstated. Enrollment continues to climb and today we have more than 17,000 students in the Bend-La Pine Schools, but just 22 counselors.
"We are seeing a rise in severe mental health needs over the last six years," says Rayne Cedergreen, a counselor at Bend High School. She says the counselors are seeing more depression, anxiety, bullying, and social-emotional learning problems. The counselors are stretched very thin, she says, with a ratio of one counselor for 700 students at Pilot Butte Middle School, and one to 440 at Bend High, where she is a counselor. The national recommendation is one counselor per 250 students.
"Right now, we are advocating for more counselors in the district," says Cedergreen. "When it comes to funding there are a lot of priorities," she notes. "We want to keep the conversation positive, but address that since the recession, when counselors were cut, this is one of the areas very slow to be refunded," she says.
"What we know," says Cedergreen, "is that when we widen the gap in the ratio of counselors to students, our most at-risk population is the most affected." This includes students living in poverty, English as a second language (ESL) students and special education and services students. In the Bend-La Pine Administrative District, one in 25 students was homeless in the 2014/2015 school year, according to data collected by the Oregon Department of Education. "These students and families are not able to afford $130 per hour for private counseling," says Cedergreen.
"We've requested to create a team for planning," says Cedergreen, who adds that Oregon legislation [OAR 581-022-1510] requires by law that districts provide a coordinated comprehensive guidance and counseling program to support each and every student. "We don't have that right now," she says. "Our proposal includes all counselors working together in a strong support system," she says.
As a first step, the counselors in the district have come together to request $15,000 to research the problem and create a model that is in line with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommendations. This request will come up for review in the next few months. During the spring, the Board of Directors will work with volunteers on the Bend-La Pine Schools Budget Committee, meeting several times to work on the budget. We urge the School Board and Budget Committee to support Bend-La Pine school counselors.