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Does Michigan school counselor shortage impact safety?

Posted at 6:28 PM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 18:29:30-05

The Valentine’s Day School shooting in Florida has inspired intense national debate about guns and how to react to a shooter.  One school leader is calling on lawmakers to ALSO talk about how to prevent such tragedies, by taking on a crisis hitting Michigan Schools particularly hard. 

Schools are dealing with a severe shortage of school counselors. 

Taking a look at the numbers, the American School Counselor Association recommends a student to counselor ratio of 250 to one. Nationwide the number is not even close.  It is 482 to one.   In Florida it is 485 to one. 

Here in Michigan, it is even worse.  For every 729 students, there is one counselor.  It is the third worst ratio in the nation. 

If you talk to people who work as counselors in schools- about the tragedy, one question is on their mind.  Could that young man’s actions have been prevented if there were more mental health and well being resources in schools?

“They need intervention, so if we can provide that intervention early on, a tragedy could be stopped,” said Jesse Allgeier, a Troy High School Counselor. 

Allgeier says school counselors don’t just provide academic, college and career counseling. They meet with students struggling due to bullying, stress, trauma, or mental illness. When there is a crisis, they respond.  She says she is lucky to be at a school district with a student to counselor ratio of about 400 to one, much better than the statewide average of 729 to one.  She also says with a lower ratio more could be done to help at risk students achieve happy productive lives. 

“Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, students are in crisis every day  and when we have a case load of 400 or 700, it is not manageable,” said Allgeier. 

“As we talk about how we allocate resources in our schools that is one of the areas I would hopper legislators would look at,” said Dr. Rich Machesky, Troy Superintendent of Schools. 

Dr. Machesky says the shortage is caused by a lack of funding. He says addressing the shortage of school counselors and other crisis intervention staff such as social workers would be a step towards preventing tragedy and setting students up to succeed in life after school.

“I would hope that we can change the conversation away from guns in schools, no matter who has them, to how do we help support our students emotional wellbeing. I think the counselors are on the front line. I would like to see more of them available,” said Dr. Rich Machesky.