School Boards are responsible for the mental health of students

May is designated as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Balanced children are mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy. Schools are places where our children are required to spend a significant amount of time. The overall condition of our young peoples’ mental health is directly affected by their experience at school.


It’s not only their peers who can make or break the self-esteem of our children and teenagers; teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, administrators and even school board members all have direct influence over the state of the students’ mental health. As parents, grandparents and guardians we are required by law to send our children to school. Thus, I believe it’s crucial for us to also demand that the adults who work in schools be of high moral character as they are directly responsible for what happens to our children while they are at school.


Many of our local schools are very much adult oriented. When the schools’ focus revolves around the adults, our children will fall by the wayside. It has always been the purpose of an employment agency to find people jobs, right? Yet, the local school boards act like they are employment agencies instead of educational institutions as the character of staff hired to work with our students is often questionable.


When adults with questionable reputations are hired to work in schools the students are definitely placed at risk. Unscrupulous adults say things to our children and adolescents affecting their young minds. For example, there are many staff members, teachers and coaches included, who are verbally abusive and intimidating because they regularly use four letter words in the classrooms or during sports practice.


When you are a parent/guardian who cusses all the time your children become numb to it; they will cuss just like you. Still, there are families who won’t allow cussing in their homes. They work hard to be conscious role models to their children. But efforts are not reinforced when the children go to school or practice only to be cussed out by adults. Schools lack consistency.


I have learned that when you cuss, you radiate negative energy. People who cuss make me cringe. It’s kind of like poking someone with a sharp needle every time you utter profanities. People think it’s cool to constantly cuss but I believe it just shows how uneducated and ignorant they are. Unscrupulous teachers/coaches use profanity to intimidate their students/athletes.


The teachers/coaches are supposed to be the educated ones. They are presumably there to help our students be the best they can be. Yet, the fact that some of them cuss out their students on a daily basis shows me they aren’t motivated to encourage their students/athletes in a more appropriate manner. 


There is one teacher at a local middle school whose behavior was recently brought to my attention. He has been teacher for a long time as he was one of my daughter’s teachers when she was in middle school. I have no idea why he has been allowed to stay in the school system this long because he was making derogatory remarks to my daughter when he was her teacher. He has not changed as he is still disrespecting our Lakota students.


One thing he states to the students is they will never amount to anything because they are “rez kids.” He compares them to the people who pick up cans in the ditches for money and tells them that’s how they are going to be when they reach adulthood. Remember folks, we elect the school board members who make the decisions to hire adults like him.


What do you think disparaging remarks like this do for the mental health of our children and adolescents? It’s totally disgusting to me to know we have people like this still working in our schools. It’s depressing to think about how long they’ve worked there. This teacher I am referring to has been teaching our Lakota children for at least 20 years. How much damage has he done to the countless young minds which were entrusted to him?


There is another local teacher who is a high school basketball coach. He recently received a public reprimand from a State Commission for inappropriate behavior toward students. Numerous parents even voiced concerns at a Tribal Council meeting. An attorney wrote a letter to the school board last month encouraging them to do right by the students.


Still, the local school board decided to renew his teaching contract by a vote of 3-2. This shows their lack of concern for the mental health of the students they are elected to serve. Obviously, they would rather retain the teacher and dismiss the mental health of the students – a classic example of an adult oriented institution.


Finally, it gave me hope to learn about the Oglala Sioux Tribe approving legislation to hold administrators responsible for the mental health of their students. I’d like to see my own tribe make a similar stand. Our children deserve to be treated much better by teachers.


Resolution 13-57 was unanimously approved on March 26, 2013 at a Regular Session of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. It reads in part: “if a student commits suicide as a result of lack of action by the school administration to prevent bullying and/or stalking, those individuals or that individual shall be held accountable and answer to the Tribal Council.”


Many people do not want to talk about suicide. Yet, suicide ideation, attempts and completions are directly related to the mental health of our children and adolescents. As long as school boards continue to hire and protect the adult bullies who intimidate our young people with cuss words or derogatory remarks then our children will never attain true mental health.


So remember this the next time you go to vote in the school board election. The people you elect to serve on school boards are largely responsible for the lack of mental health in our children and adolescents.

Published by Vi Waln


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