Office for Civil Rights Prioritizes School Health

  • April 1, 2014
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Health issues have been added to the Office of Civil Right’s national education survey

In 1968, the US Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) began collecting information on schools across the country – commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). This ongoing survey, which 99.2% of schools complete, is an important foundation for ED’s efforts to ensure a fair and equitable education system for all, tracking issues such as teacher qualification, discipline needs, graduation rates and more. However absent from their data collection has been any mention of health. At least until now.

On March 19, 2014, OCR published their revised CRDC (.doc) and stated they added “a small number of new data items.” Amongst these items includes three new questions, that for the first time, measure student access to school health services – questions that HSC raised last fall to OCR. The new questions read:

  • Number of FTE psychologists (preschool through grade 12)

  • Number of FTE social workers (preschool through grade 12)

  • Number of FTE nurses (preschool through grade 12)

Research clearly shows that school-based health services, both physical and mental, are critical to support student health and wellness, as well as academic achievement. The Healthy People 2020 objectives include increasing access to health services by putting one full-time registered school nurse in each school for every 750 students . Despite this, more than half of public schools currently do not have a full-time school nurse or school counselor, and less than 5% of the nation’s students have access to services through a school-based health center.

We also know that in the report, For Each and Every Child, put out under OCR, the Equity and Excellence Commission recognized the connection between health and learning and identified the need to support student health as a critical strategy for reducing the achievement gap. Including questions about health services provided in schools is a natural extension from this report.

We know that including these questions on the CRDC won’t place more nurses, social workers or psychologists in schools, but it will help us develop a real picture of health service access and will allow us to better develop strategies to deliver the health services needed by our children.

HSC commends OCR for taking this important first step, and we look forward to seeing the results of the next data collection efforts. HSC also would like to thank our friends and colleagues at the School Social Work Association of America for their insight and leadership on this issue.