LAJC Study Shows Va. Schools Fall Below Recommended Staff Numbers

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The problems the study highlights are not as big of an issue in Charlottesville and Albemarle The problems the study highlights are not as big of an issue in Charlottesville and Albemarle

A new study from the Legal Aid Justice Center has found that Virginia schools are falling short of recommended staffing benchmarks, and that could mean compromising students’ safety.

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) says the workload for staff has increased as student enrollment grows across the state, and that means leaving some students without the support they need.

“It's not just about building security,” Rachael Deane, the legal director of the JustChildren Program at the LAJC, said.

Student safety goes beyond door locks and bulletproof window films.

“It's also about making sure that students have what they need to feel safe in school,” Deane said.

The LAJC has found that, overall, Virginia schools lack enough mental health services, counseling, trusted adult mentors, and access to academic support.

“So we have more students and fewer of these professionals to serve them,” Deane said. “So we see that counselors and psychologists and social workers and nurses are actually facing very high caseloads, and they're also being pulled into other administrative work.”

The LAJC is hoping Virginia’s General Assembly will adopt proposals from the Virginia Board of Education to establish higher standards in these areas.

Administrators in Charlottesville and Albemarle County say this is not as big of a problem for them.

“I wound say we're beyond that study,” Matt Haas, the superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, said. “First of all, I want to say that we have really outstanding school counselors in our division.”

“Presently, our school division exceeds the standards established by the state in the areas of school psychologists, school counselors, social workers, and we get there based on our cooperation and collaboration with City Council and their funding of the school division,” Jim Henderson, the associate superintendent for Charlottesville City Schools, said.

Administrators from both school systems say they work to stay ahead of potential problems.

“As a school division, we don't want to be complacent and so I think it gives us direction that we are doing what the state wants us to do with the funds that they give us,” Henderson said. “But we also know that we have to address every individual.”

The standards by the state recommend at least one counselor for every 250 students, one nurse for every 550 students, and one full-time social worker and psychologist for every 1000 students.