General Assembly Approves Trauma Informed Schools Act
STATE HOUSE – Against a backdrop of what health care providers are describing as a mental health state of emergency for Rhode Island children, the General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Sen. Sandra Cano to implement trauma-informed practices in schools throughout the state. The bill will now go to the governor.
The Trauma Informed Schools Act (2022-H 6667B, 2022-S 2556A) directs the commissioner of elementary and secondary education to establish a trauma-informed schools implementation plan to support to support the academic, behavioral, social and emotional needs of all students. In a trauma-informed school, adults teaching or interacting with children are keenly aware of the implications of adverse childhood experiences and their implications to teaching and learning. They also reflect on their own teaching practices and use strategies that support students who may be experiencing trauma.
“Each and every one of us experiences trauma at some point in our lives, some more than others, and the trauma we experience as children can shape our lives forever. The difference that determines whether we are able to be resilient and recover is whether we are supported by those in our community,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), who works as a teacher at E-Cubed Academy in Providence. “In schools, teachers like myself see kids suffering every day from the trauma they have experienced, particularly during the pandemic the last couple of years. The mental-emotional needs of our children need to be met with care, and teachers and staff need resources to know how they can respond in ways that are helpful.”
Said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), “By passing the Trauma Informed Schools Act today, we are helping children and educators address the growing mental health concerns of children. This bill will also help our educators who often struggle to meet the needs of these children. By supporting students’ needs around the issues of trauma, we will help them come to school better prepared to learn and provide them with the opportunities they deserve to set them on the path for lifelong success.”
The bill aims to create school communities where all adults are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by toxic stress and trauma. Students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. Trauma informed schools provide a safe, stable and supportive environment for students and staff and are welcoming and inclusive environments where all students can thrive.
Under such practices, schools are to avoid harsh, punitive, or exclusionary disciplinary practices that erode the culture of trust, and instead use evidence-based restorative practices with a focus on behavior modifications and community. They are also to implement procedures to call skilled mental health personnel when there is mental health breakdown, and resort to law enforcement only in extreme cases, such as when the student is a risk for bodily harm or physical threat to themselves or other.
The bill creates a Trauma Informed Schools Act Commission to assist the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with implementation of the act, help identify resources to help with carrying it out, and to continually review trauma-informed initiatives in schools across the state.
Representative Ranglin-Vassell, who has introduced the legislation for several years, and Senator Cano say that while childhood trauma has been a huge and growing issue affecting education for many years, the difficulties children have faced during the pandemic have brought it to the forefront of educators’ concerns in communities across Rhode Island.
In April, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, alongside Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital declared a mental health state of emergency for Rhode Island children, saying the “worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020.”
The legislation was supported by the Department of Education, Rhode Island Kids Count, Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, Adoption Rhode Island, United Way of Rhode Island, State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the American Civil Liberties Union Rhode Island, the City of Providence Health Communities Office, Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, Providence Teachers Union, National Education Association, Rhode Island Black Business Association, and Comprehensive Community Action Program. Parents, doctors and psychologists testified in favor of it in committee hearings.