The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued joint guidance reminding schools of their legal obligation to address students’ mental health needs.
OCR and DOJ note the increase in students’ mental health challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the return to in-person learning. In the Fact Sheet and the accompanying letter to educators, OCR and DOJ advise schools to create a supportive environment for students by:
• Developing trauma-informed crisis management procedures that include individualized
• Providing access to mental health evaluations and services.
• Modifying school policies for individual students.
• Training staff to recognize and respond to signs of distress and suicidal ideation
• Sharing mental health resources.
Students with mental health disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws require K-12 schools to provide disabled students an equal opportunity to learn. This may entail evaluating a student for a suspected mental health disability, providing disability-related services, and/or making reasonable modifications to school policies, practices, and procedures, as appropriate for each student’s individualized needs.