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Student and Family Support (SFS)

Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2022: An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health

Brief Summary of Select Key Components of Interest to School Districts

On August 10th, 2022, Governor Baker signed into law Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2022 (An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health). This webpage provides a brief overview of a selection of the bill's K–12 education-related provisions that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has a role in implementing. This webpage will be updated as more information becomes available.

Mental Health Student Advisory Committee (Section 4)
The law creates an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion within EOHHS that is charged with convening a student advisory committee on mental health, with secondary students filling at least one-third of the seats. This committee will work with DESE to develop and implement school-based programs that promote positive student mental health and wellbeing. This committee will submit an annual report by June 30 with its findings and recommendations, including any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary.

Statewide Program Behavioral Health Services and Supports Program (Section 4)
Subject to appropriation, the law creates a statewide program to assist districts in implementing equitable, linguistically, and culturally competent, developmentally appropriate behavioral health services and supports. The program will provide web-based, in-person and remote supports—including consultation, coaching, and technical assistance—to administrators, teachers and school behavioral health staff related to planning, administering, and managing behavioral health promotion, prevention and intervention services and supports. This program will operate out of the University of Massachusetts, as well as regional sites, to carry out the program.

Updated Emergency Management Plans to Explicitly Include Behavioral Health (Section 28)
The Department (DESE) will carry out its responsibilities for supporting expanded district and school-based emergency management plans to encompass behavioral health, as well as physical health. The Department will update its Model Medical Emergency Response Plan to incorporate the required new elements. Consultation with state agency partners, districts, and other stakeholders will begin this fall, with an anticipated release to school districts in 2023, and updates biennially thereafter. The Department anticipates that school committees and charter school boards of trustees would update their current emergency medical response plans by September 1, 2023, to incorporate the required new elements. The Department will also provide professional development and support for districts and schools on developing emergency management plans and threat assessments through partnerships with U.S. Department of Education's Readiness in Emergency Management in Schools Technical Assistance Center, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS), Department of Fire Services (DFS), EOHHS, DMH, DPH, and other agencies.

Required Alternative Remedies Prior to Suspensions and Expulsions (Section 29)
This section replaces paragraph (b) of M.G.L. c. 71, s. 37H-3/4 to require school authorities to consider and employ alternative remedies to reengage students in learning process before suspending or expelling a student, except in specific documented circumstances. Alternative remedies include mediation, conflict resolution, restorative justice, and collaborative problem solving. It also calls for implementation of school- or district-wide models to re-engage students in learning. The Department informed school and district leaders about the changes to the law in the November 7, 2022 Weekly Update, and issued Guidance on Updated Expectations for School and District Leaders Related to Student Discipline in February 2023. In March 2023, the Rethinking Discipline & Safe and Supportive Schools professional development calendar was updated with information about introductory PD available on alternatives to exclusionary practices . Additional professional development will be offered on an ongoing basis through Rethinking Discipline Initiative.

Additional Information
Please contact the Office of Student and Family Support with questions via . For additional information, you can also read How the Commonwealth's New Mental Health Act Impacts Schools provided by the Rennie Center (a DESE partner on several related initiatives).

Last Updated: March 10, 2023

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