HALL MONITOR: “CAUTION” on replacing ‘school counselors’ with ‘mental health professionals’ in schools without necessary guardrails for parent inclusion in Arizona (House Bill 2041) 

Name: Arizona House Bill 2041, on school safety and mental health 

Summary: Amends existing state statutes related to school safety and mental health services for children by replacing “school counselors” and “school social workers” with “school based mental health professionals.” Defines the criteria needed to become a “school based mental health professional.” 

Status: Read for a second time in the House on January 9, 2024

Sponsors: Representatives Jennifer Pawlik and Travis Grantham 

Bill Breakdown:

House Bill 2041 would amend state statutes for schools by expanding “school counselors” to mean “school based mental health professionals.” Those who hold a current social worker or school psychologist license from the state department of education, and other mental health providers licensed in the state, are eligible to become school based mental health professionals. 

Why is PDE Action cautious about this bill? 

Student mental health collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic, when schools shut down for months on end and students were unable to see friends, participate in athletics, and attend big life events like prom. Mental health support for students is vital. 

However, what we once knew as school guidance counseling—whereby a student meets with a faculty member to discuss classes and vocational options—has shifted more broadly to school counseling, which includes assessing a student’s behavior as well as social and emotional needs. The nation’s largest organization for school counselors, the American School Counselor Association is “firmly” on the side of “school counseling” rather than “guidance counseling.” 

The same organization advocates for school counselors to create gender support plans with transgender students. “School counselors recognize the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student rather than outside confirmation from medical practitioners, mental health professionals or documentation of legal changes,” the organization states. The ASCA notes that parents may not always be notified about a child’s gender identity at school: “If students have not disclosed their gender identity to a parent or guardian and as a result their name and/or gender marker cannot be changed on their student records, their chosen/affirmed name should be noted as a “preferred name” in the system.”

As our partner organization, Parents Defending Education, has documented, schools are increasingly shutting parents out of their child’s life at school. More than 1,000 school districts have policies that say a parent may not be told if and when a child decides to live as another gender identity at school. 

If parents are not included in such sensitive matters already, why should schools be handed additional responsibility and authority over the mental health care of children? 

As the drive for mental health and counseling services in schools increases, so too should the guardrails for parents and families. Unfortunately, oftentimes, these services can act as a Trojan horse to implement social emotional learning, and imbed race and gender politics, in schools. 

Let’s make one thing clear: Children should have access to counseling, therapy, and other tools needed to support their mental health. However, before dedicating additional funds, creating new programs, or increasing funding toward those programs, it is vital for the health and wellbeing of families and children that proper guardrails are established to include parents in every decision about their child’s care. House Bill 2041 fails to do so.