Teen suicide is rising in Nevada and mental health care in the state is ranked the lowest in the country.
At the same time, the national recommendation for school psychologists is one for every 500 to 700 students. But right now in the Clark County School District, the ratio stands at about one for every 2,200 students.
That means school psychologist spend a lot of time with data and evaluating special-needs students, which is mandated by state law. They have less time to talk to students individually. Evaluations involve hours of in-class observation, talking to parents, writing reports and monitoring plans.
"Unfortunately, all of those other students on our campuses that could use our support kind of take a backseat to evaluations because of the numbers," said Stephanie Patton, president-elect of the Nevada Association of School Psychologists. She is the psychologist for three schools with a total of 2,800 students.
Schools also have counselors and social workers, who meet those students one-on-one.
"But even both of those professions are terribly short-staffed and so we just do the best that we can and we also try to help train our school staff in recognizing signs of depression or concerns so they're brought to us when they need to be."
"But even both of those professions are terribly short-staffed, and so we just do the best that we can and we also try to help train our school staff in recognizing signs of depression or concerns so they're brought to us when they need to be."
Patton added that school psychologists often lead school teams that focus on making sure students are successful.
"We are experts in mental health, learning, and behavior," Patton said. "Really our role is to help children succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, emotionally - all at school."
Nevada is not alone in the high ratio of school psychologists to students.
Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, director of policy and advocacy for the National Association of School Psychologists, said the gold standard would be 500 to 700 students per psychologist. Instead, the national average is about 1,3,00. Some districts are as high as 5,000 students per school psychologist.
"That is the ideal ratio in which a school psychologist can provide comprehensive services," she said, "So, everything from prevention and early intervention services all the way up to providing those targeted and intensive mental health, academics, social-emotional learning skills for individual students."
One of the reasons cited for the lack of mental health professionals in Southern Nevada schools is the pay.
Linda Jones, with the Clark County Education Association. She said one of the problems with school psychologists pay is they are put in the same category as teachers, even though they typically go through more training.
Jones said psychologists with CCSD should be put in a different pay schedule than teachers. That's the case with school psychologists in Washoe County, who are considered administrators and make about twice as much as Clark County school psychologists.
She said the union asked CCSD administration for a study, to see how other school psychologists are paid but the district refused.
Even though school psychologists in Clark County are understaffed, UNLV psychology professor Katherine Lee said it is never a bad idea to go to seek out a school psychologist because they are uniquely trained to deal with students.
However, saying that one school will do better because it has more school psychologists is not always the right answer.
"The more mental health providers that you can have at a location the better," she said. "(But) there are so many factors that go into academic outcomes for a school or for a student ... those are family factors, socio-economic status factors, income factors, community resource factors. It is hard to pair it down to say the ratio is the magic."
Stephanie Patton, president-elect, Nevada Association of School Psychologists; Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, director of policy and advocacy, National Association of School Psychologists; Katherine Lee, UNLV professor, school psychology; Linda Jones, Clark County Education Association, SOT coordinator
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.