39,000 Denver students attend schools that lack adequate mental health staff, study finds

By Our Turn

At a time when the mental health of students and school staff ranks among the top concerns for Colorado education leaders, about 39,000 Denver students go to public schools where there are not enough nurses, social workers and psychologists to meet their needs.

According to a recent study published by education research and advocacy organization A+ Colorado, only 1.5% of Denver Public Schools students attend schools that are fully staffed with mental health professionals.

About 14% attend schools that are mostly staffed with nurses, social workers and psychologists, while the rest attend schools that are inadequately staffed (39.9%) or poorly staffed (44.7%). The last category accounts for 39,000 students, the report said.

A+ Colorado used DPS data to analyze whether Colorado’s largest district is well equipped to handle the mental health needs of its student body. Researchers looked at documents and district rosters to determine how many nurses, social workers and psychologists are on staff, where they are assigned and if/how they split their time between buildings.

The organization obtained the data through Colorado Open Records Act requests submitted in November.

To characterize staffing levels, A+ Colorado used expert-to-student ratios recommended by the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of School Nurses and the National Association of School Psychologists. Respectively, those organizations say there should be one social worker for every 250 general education students, one nurse for every 750 students in the general population and one psychologist for up to 700 students.

Researchers found about a third of DPS schools (35%) hit the recommended nurses-to-student ratio, while just 15% have the appropriate amount of social workers relative to the size of their student bodies. Sixty percent of schools have enough school-based psychologists to meet student needs, the report said.


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