Friday Harbor School District puts new mental health plan in place for staff

Empty streets and barren store shelves were common sights, at the beginning of the pandemic, as people isolated themselves to prevent the spread of COVID. As the world return to normal, the aftermath still inflicts invisible burdens- one of those being mental health. During a meeting on March 30, the Friday Harbor High School board discussed their new mental health plan. It is related to an earlier version, which arose due to COVID. That plan centered around the social-emotional climate for students.

The outline of the new policy acknowledges that while the staff is committed to being there for students who have suffered from mental health complications, family trauma, or loss, those given the responsibility to help those students may also suffer from secondary traumatic stress.

“Everyday school staff work with students experiencing trauma and loss,” the 2022 document states. “As a result, teachers, school counselors, administrators, and other school staff many experience secondary traumatic stress. When secondary traumatic stress is left unaddressed, it may lead to staff turnover, burnout, adult chronic absenteeism, and health issues that negatively impact everyone in the school community.”

The new plan also states that compassion fatigue is natural and common, but its symptoms can grow to be disruptive. These symptoms can include feelings of isolation, anxiety, dissociation, physical ailments, sleep disturbances, changes in memory and perception, alterations in their sense of self-efficacy, a depletion of personal resources, and disruption in their perceptions of safety, trust, and independence.

To supplement the goal, the district will promote a positive workspace that focuses on diversity and inclusion with the school board establishing a district-wide mental health committee.

This committee will share secondary traumatic stress, stress management, and other mental health resources and supports available through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Educational Service District, and the School Employees Benefits Board. They will also share links to a secondary traumatic stress self-assessment tool and any associated resources, and report to the board at least once per year with a summary of committee activities.

The district will regularly assess district-level and school building–level implementation of this policy and procedure, which will include input from the district’s workforce. To strive for continuous improvement, the district will provide appropriate resources and training to schools and staff.

“The committee is developing our accompanying procedure for ongoing outreach as well as gathering and sharing resources with staff including access to the Employee Assistance Program and reviewing our internal Climate Survey to extrapolate and review data in the area of staff perception and perspectives,” said Maude Cumming, Executive Assistant to the Superintendant. “This new policy will drive an effort to prevent and address secondary traumatic stress for District personnel by supporting mental health in the workplace.”