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Schools struggle to provide mental health resources during shutdown

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Virginia school administrators say they are struggling to provide mental health services during the coronavirus pandemic, even as vulnerable students continue with online studies away from regular counseling and support.

As school systems move to virtual learning, school counseling resources, deemed critical to student wellness by the U.S. Department of Education, are unable to provide in-person therapy for high-risk students. The alternative treatments — online sessions or new therapists from community services boards — could fall short in continuing care and supporting students during the pandemic, mental health professionals say.

The global crisis has brought added stress and anxiety to students and their families. More than 100,000 children and teens suffer from mental illness in Virginia, according to the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The pandemic “is going to exacerbate some of those kids’ symptoms — even the kids that have outside providers,” said Nicolo Porto, a high school social worker in Northern Virginia. “The biggest thing that we’re still working through is we can’t provide mental health services to kids.”

For many students, access to trusted adults and mental health resources were suddenly cut off on March 23, when Gov. Ralph Northam officially closed schools throughout Virginia for the rest of the academic year. Several other local school boards had made the decision weeks earlier.

“I was genuinely devastated,” said one student from Chesterfield who had been regularly meeting with her school’s resource officer and relied on support from three teachers. The 18-year-old student, who wished to remain anonymous, said her resources at school were like family to her.

“Those four people were my rock. They were the sole reason why I would get out of bed in the morning,” the Chesterfield teen said. “I never got to say a goodbye or anything. One day they were 3 feet away from me and next they were gone — like someone just turned the light off. I still get emotional thinking about it.”

Universal efforts are being made across school divisions to help children transition, Maribel Saimre, director of student services at the Virginia Department of Education, wrote in an email. Although schools are providing students and their parents with coping strategies during virtual learning, consistency of care is not guaranteed, she said.

“Resources vary by community,” Saimre said. “Crisis intervention is available across all community service boards, but other services are going to vary depending on the locality and providers.”

While some school districts are embracing telehealth, others are hesitant to use it as a replacement for in-person treatment.

Virtual counseling poses privacy concerns, and can produce lower quality care, Porto said.

Porto, who specializes in crisis intervention and trauma, said his role as a school social worker abruptly shifted to an administrative role when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Virginia. Porto had been working regularly with several students when his school district suddenly closed schools. Since his school closed, he has had no contact or time to make contingency plans with any of his students due to legal and ethical concerns.

Each school district has its own guidelines for how or if counselors can contact their students. For example, some districts allow counselors to send emails to students to check in, but others require specific signed permission for outside-of-school contact related to privacy practices and counseling confidentiality.

School social workers and psychologists in Virginia are not required to complete telehealth training as it isn’t necessary in typical school environments. Even with training, Porto said the quality of virtual healthcare is diminished because counselors cannot analyze body language.

Mental health professionals also cannot guarantee a confidential environment over a virtual platform. “There’s no way to be sure that their parent isn’t sitting off camera,” Porto said.

Porto also said that because some families do not believe in mental health treatment, their children lose all of their mental health resources when schools close. Other students who don’t typically seek resources may find themselves in need during social distancing and continued isolation.

School psychologists and social workers are left to focus on providing online resources and communicating with parents, who frequently must initiate contact.

To cope with concerns over treatment gaps, administrators are also referring students to providers outside of the school system. Saimre said some Virginia localities are using an out-of-office voicemail system to refer students to community resources.

“The double-edged sword is that there are actually a lot of places for mental health, but very few of them actually take insurance, and even then, it can still be expensive,” Porto said.

Even if students want to have online therapy sessions, many cannot. In 17 Virginia counties, less than half of the population has access to broadband internet, according to Broadband Now, an advocacy group.

“The well-off kids have access to that, but many, many kids don’t have access to it, so they are caught in a situation where they are deprived,” said Bob Trestman, chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke. “I have no doubt that there are many children who previously were receiving care who now, either no longer have access or, because of the nature of their problems, no longer have the support to continue their care.”

Some districts throughout the state have tried to combat digital inequity by providing computers, tablets or internet hotspots. However, some districts can’t afford it.

“It could have an outsized impact on kids who are not able to connect in person or to connect electronically,” said Lloyd English, a school psychologist for Norfolk Public Schools where hotspots have been distributed to those in need. He expected the extended period of isolation to be difficult for everyone.

The economic collapse caused by the pandemic has left many families in financial distress. Over 410,000 Virginians applied for unemployment benefits during the first four weeks of the crisis. A parent’s stress is often felt by their children.

“As parents, we transmit all of those anxieties to our kids, no matter how hard we try not to,” English said. “Our students definitely feel that pressure, even for the younger ones.”

With mounting financial concerns, children might find it harder to ask for help.

“We’re already starting to see some of our families that may not ordinarily need to access the meal services, coming to the meal service line to get food,” Porto said. “If your basic needs aren’t even met, you can’t begin to think about your health or your mental health. They’re not going to be in an environment that they can do self care because they’re just trying to survive.”

Most school-provided mental health resources will likely remain limited until students are back in classrooms and able to return to in-person counseling.

Porto said he believes there will be an uptick in students needing mental health services in the fall due to COVID-19, whether the student was personally affected by the disease or other stresses related to the pandemic.

Porto has turned to providing online resources for students and families. He created the Mental Health, Wellness and Community Resources for Families, which lists places students and families can turn to in order to cope with COVID-19.

“When we come back, it’s going to hit me like a freight train, how little I was able to do,” Porto said. “I [will] have to put on my work hat and deal with that in the moment because that’s what these kids need from us.”

Emergency Mental Health Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Text “NAMI” to 741741 if you are having suicidal thoughts or urges.


By Alexis Angelus and Stacey Dec
Capital News Service – University of Richmond Bureau

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Bill advances to remove statue of segregationist

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A Virginia House of Delegates committee voted Friday to advance a bill to remove the statue of former state Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square.

House Bill 2208, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, instructs the Department of General Services to place the statue in storage until its final location is chosen by the General Assembly.

“This statue serves only as a reminder to the overt and institutional racism that has and continues to plague our commonwealth,” Jones said.

The bill’s supporters included Rita Davis, counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam, who described Byrd’s work as preventing African Americans from voting, being seen or being heard.

“Had Mr. Byrd had his way, I would never have the opportunity to be before you, because I’m Black,” Davis said during the committee hearing. “The question is not whether we should remove Mr. Byrd’s statue from Capitol Square, but rather ‘Why on earth would we keep it at Capitol Square?’”

 Speaker of the House Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield, indicated during the hearing that the League of Women Voters also supported the bill.

The five Republicans serving on the committee voted against the measure.

Byrd, a Democrat, served as Virginia’s governor from 1926 to 1930 and as a U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965. He strongly opposed desegregation of public schools and led a “massive resistance” campaign in the South against the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, according to documents from Old Dominion University’s Desegregation of Virginia Education collection. His statue was erected in Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1976 after his death in 1966.

Debate around the statue’s removal began last session, when Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, introduced a bill to remove it, though the bill was ultimately stricken from the docket. The General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing local governments to remove Confederate monuments. The removal of statues in Richmond was accelerated following protests after George Floyd died in the custody of a Minneappolis police officer who has since been charged with second-degree murder.

The Department of General Services estimates the removal to cost approximately $250,000, according to the bill’s impact statement. Storage costs are estimated at $7,000 per year until the final home of the statue is determined.

The Rules Committee passed the measure on a 13-5 vote. The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.

By Zachary Klosko
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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44 new troopers graduate Virginia State Police Academy

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The 44 men and women of the Virginia State Police 132nd Basic Session graduated in a virtual ceremony on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Due to COVID-19 protocols, a virtual ceremony was the safest means of allowing the graduates and their families to celebrate the culmination of 27 weeks of the trooper-trainees’ hard work, sacrifice, and dedication. Also in virtual attendance were state police executive staff, academy staff, and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. A previously-recorded video of Governor Ralph Northam congratulating the new troopers was played during the ceremony.

“This Basic Session class has been like no other. Every one of these steadfast men and women heeded strict attention to detail as they navigated the ever-evolving COVID-19 safety protocols,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “The attention to detail wasn’t just to ensure a safe environment for the entire class, their families, academy staff, and instructors, but also for the greater good, something all Virginia State Troopers understand as they put their lives to the test daily to protect and serve the citizens of the Commonwealth. I could not be more proud of this graduating class and I know they will represent us well as they serve their communities.”

The new troopers received more than 1,300 hours of classroom and field instruction in more than 100 different subjects, including de-escalation techniques, strategies to assist people in a mental health crisis, ethics and leadership, fair and impartial policing, constitutional law, emergency medical trauma care, and public and community relations. The members of the 132nd Basic Session began their 27 weeks of academic, physical, and practical training at the Academy on June 29, 2020.

The graduates of the 132nd Basic Session are from every corner of the Commonwealth, as well as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and New York. They include two second-generation troopers, four first-generation Americans, and numerous prior military service personnel.

For their final phase of training, each trooper will spend an additional six weeks paired with a Field Training Officer learning his or her new patrol area.

132nd Basic Graduate Assignment
Arfan M. Arif  – Fairfax County
Michael L. Albert – Shenandoah County
Zachary T. Barnes – York County
Moses I. R. Blakey – New Kent County
Vontasia T. Britton – York County
Andrew J. Brown – Prince William County
Taylor C. Brown – Prince William County
Jawaan D. Cook – Greensville County
William T. DiBerardine  – Warren County
Hunter C. Dickenson  – Gloucester County
Julian B. Edwards – Prince William County
Kayla B. Edwards – Surry County
Christian L. Elkins – Prince William County
Arthur P. Falin – Greensville County
Jacob A. Farmer – Prince George County
Adelaide E. Fischer – Hampton / Newport News
Robert L. Flynn – Accomack County
Tony Fuentes – James City County
Austin K. Gallaway – Hampton / Newport News
Zachary M. Homlish – Caroline County
Hunter C. Jensen – New Kent County
Stephanie H. Kapusta – Fairfax County
Sarah A. M. Kendrick – Prince William County
Aaryn J. Kerry – Cumberland County
Steven R. King – Accomack County
Timothy L. LaFountain – Buckingham County
Joshua O. McClure – Frederick County
Alexander W. Meyers – King George County
Thomas J. Mills – York County
Justin R. Mull – Caroline County
Connor R. O’Quinn – Hampton / Newport News
Earl J. Pritchett – Prince George County
Andrew R. S. Sanders – Sussex County
Gabriel A. Santillan – Fairfax County
Austin M. Sloan – King William County
Jeffrey A. Spencer – Fairfax County
Sean M. Stinnett – Clark County
Seth A. Sullivan – Accomack County
Andrew M. Toth – Fairfax County
Joseph J. Trombley – Shenandoah County
Richard C. Warner – Gloucester County
Jacob K. Weitzman – Fairfax County
Isaac D. Wilson – York County
Joseph T. Worley – Greensville County

State police are currently hiring for future Basic Session Academy classes. Those interested in joining the ranks of the Virginia State Police are encouraged to visit www.vatrooper.com for more information.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – January 14, 2021

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.

Highlights include:

  • vaccine distribution to 160 sites
  • receiving 110,000 vaccine doses per week
  • the goal is to distribute 25,000 does per day
  • your turn will come, be patient
  • important to reopen our schools
  • possibility of year-round school
  • addressed threats of violence leading up to next week’s inauguration

Briefing begins about 8 minutes into the broadcast.

Governor Northam delivers State of the Commonwealth Address

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IRS Criminal Investigation warns Virginia taxpayers about new wave of COVID-19 scams

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The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) is warning Virginia taxpayers about a new wave of COVID-19-related scams as the agency delivers the second round of Economic Impact Payments.

In the last several months, IRS-CI has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment (EIP) scams and other financial schemes designed to steal money and personal information from taxpayers. Criminals are taking advantage of the second round of Economic Impact Payments – as well as the approaching filing season – to trick honest taxpayers out of their hard-earned money.

“IRS-CI wants to make sure all Virginians are aware of potential scams, in hopes of preventing them from being victimized,” said Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson.  “Please stay vigilant of potential scammers looking to steal your identity and your money.”

Some common COVID-19 scams include:

  • Text messages asking taxpayers to disclose bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payments.
  • Phishing schemes using email, letters and social media messages with key words such as “Coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “stimulus” in varying ways. These communications are blasted to large numbers of people and aim to access personally identifying information and financial account information (including account numbers and passwords).
  • The organized and unofficial sale of fake at-home COVID-19 test kits (as well as offers to sell fake cures, vaccines, pills, and professional medical advice regarding unproven COVID-19 treatments).
  • Fake donation requests for individuals, groups and areas heavily affected by the
  • Bogus opportunities to invest in companies developing COVID-19 vaccines while promising that the “company” will dramatically increase in value as a result.

Although criminals are constantly changing their tactics, taxpayers can help protect themselves by acting as the first line of defense. The best way to avoid falling victim to a scam is knowing how the IRS communicates with taxpayers. The IRS does not send unsolicited texts or emails. The IRS does not call people with threats of jail or lawsuits, nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards.

IRS-CI continues investigating hundreds of COVID-19-related cases with law enforcement agencies domestically and abroad and educating taxpayers about scams.

COVID-19 scams should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submitted through the NCDF Web Complaint Form. The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division dedicated to improving the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct related to natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies.

Taxpayers can also report fraud or theft of their Economic Impact Payments to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Reports can be made online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV.

Taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward the message to phishing@irs.gov. Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone.

To learn more about COVID-19 scams and other financial schemes visit IRS.gov. Official IRS information about COVID-19 and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page, which is updated frequently.

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Governor Northam delivers State of the Commonwealth Address

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Governor Ralph Northam delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the governor spoke from the House Chamber of the Virginia State Capitol before a virtual joint session of the General Assembly.

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DMV closed for 2021 State Holidays and Observances

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All Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) full-service customer service centers will be closed on the following days for state holidays and observances:

• January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

• February 15: George Washington Day

• May 31: Memorial Day

• June 18: Juneteenth

• July 5: Independence Day

• September 6: Labor Day

• October 11: Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day

• November 2: Election Day

• November 11: Veterans Day

The holiday schedule for Thanksgiving and Christmas will be announced at a later date.

DMV customers are encouraged to save time by taking advantage of more than 40 transactions available online at dmvNOW.com. Appointments are required for in-person transactions.

Also, some DMV Select locations, run mostly by local governments, may operate outside the state holiday closing schedule. DMV Select offices process mostly vehicle-related transactions including registration renewals, titles, and license plates; driver’s licenses and ID card services are not available. To find out if a DMV Select in your area is open on a state holiday and whether an appointment is required, visit dmvNOW.com/DMVSelect.

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Upcoming Events

Jan
29
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12:30 pm Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Edu... @ Online Event
Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Edu... @ Online Event
Jan 29 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education @ Online Event
Save a Life: Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education January 29th The Northwestern Prevention Collaborative and Northwestern Community Services Board will offer a free virtual REVIVE! Training on January 29th from 12:30 pm to[...]
Jan
30
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2:00 pm Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
Jan 30 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
We will paint these beautiful camellias on Saturday, January 30th at 2 pm at The Studio. This will be the first in a series of floral paintings we will do over the course of 2021.[...]
6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Jan 30 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
6:00 pm Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Jan 30 @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Known in medieval Celtic culture as a storyteller, verse maker, and composer, the word ‘Bard’ has become synonymous with the world’s greatest poets. However, few are as celebrated as Scotland’s own ‘National Bard’, Robert Burns,[...]
Feb
9
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10:00 am Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 9 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
11
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6:30 pm Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 11 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
13
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6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Feb 13 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
Feb
15
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9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Feb 15 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Feb
16
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10:00 am Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 16 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
17
Wed
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Feb 17 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]