Iowa Law Requires Mental Health Training for Educators

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to Emily Piper, lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, and Kristin Hilton, school counselor at Central Academy, about a new Iowa law that requires training for educators to help students with mental health issues.

This law is designed to give teachers the tools to help students experiencing mental health issues and establish protocols for suicide prevention. 

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Later in the hour, state representative Mary Mascher of Iowa City joins to discuss the frustrations of Iowa teachers amidst pay and collective bargaining issues.

“I think teachers are very much feeling unappreciated,” Mascher says. “The lack of support funding-wise from the state and the gutting of the collective bargaining law have had enormous impacts, and I think it has created a really poor morale among teachers in terms of feeling appreciated by the state of Iowa for what they do.”

Mascher points out that over the last few decades, teachers have had to shift their focus from the curriculum to meeting the needs of students struggling with poverty, hunger, or mental health issues.

“I look at all of the things that have changed over time and I know that it has become much more difficult for teachers to be able to teach and for children to learn in an environment where some of their basic needs are not being met,” she says.

Along with these new challenges inside the classroom, low pay and a lack of collective bargaining rights have made it increasingly difficult for Iowa teachers to have their voices heard.

“It’s against the law to strike in Iowa and I know teachers are frustrated. They’re extremely intent upon getting ready for their classrooms and making sure that they have a good curriculum available for their students.”

“I think if they would have the ability to strike they would. They understand now that if they do that it would be violating and breaking the law,” Mascher says.

One of the major risks of this unaddressed frustration is that Iowa could lose qualified teachers. Minnesota in particular may be an attractive option for teachers who could commute across state lines for better pay and rights.

“I worry that we are going to lose a workforce that says ‘I can go elsewhere, I can make more, and I have more respect.’”