Q: In the wake of the pandemic, did the Texas Legislature take any action to help schools identify mental health warning signs in students?
A: Yes. SB 179 directs each school board to adopt a policy that requires a school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of the school counselor’s total work time on duties that are components of a comprehensive school counseling program.
On June 18, 2021, Governor Abbot signed SB 179, which requires each school district board of trustees to adopt a policy that requires a school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of the counselor’s total work time on duties included in the school’s comprehensive school counseling program. Under the Texas Model, which was developed by TEA to help students benefit from comprehensive school counseling programs, the primary responsibility of a school counselor is to “counsel students to fully develop each student’s academic, career, personal, and social abilities.” School counselors achieve this responsibility by participating in planning, implementing, and evaluating a guidance program to serve all students and address the needs of students who are at risk of negative outcomes, such as dropping out of school. Notably, SB 179 explains that time spent administering or providing other assistance in connection with state testing, except time spent interpreting test data, would not be considered time spent on counseling.
SB 179 provides flexibility to school districts that rely on counselors to perform non-counseling duties. If a school board determined that, because of staffing needs in the district or at a campus, a counselor cannot meet the 80 percent threshold, the policy must: (i) include the reasons why the counselor could not meet the 80 percent threshold; (ii) list the duties the counselor is expected to perform that are not components of the counseling program; and (iii) set the percentage of work time that the counselor is required to spend on components of the counseling program. Importantly, a school district cannot “contract away” the 80 percent obligation, meaning a school district cannot include a provision in a school counselor’s employment contract that conflicts with the board policy required by SB 179. Compliance will be monitored by the Commissioner pursuant to administrative rules.
SB 179 becomes effective on September 1, 2021. A copy of the policy must be maintained in the office of each school in the district and made available on request during regular school hours to district employees, parents of district students, and the public. A template should be provided as a component of the upcoming TASB policy update.
Additional questions regarding SB 179 or other legislation should be directed to your local school district attorney.