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Arkansas Governor, Ed Secretary Urge Schools to Join Mental Health Pilot Program

Arkansas Governor, Ed Secretary Urge Schools to Join Mental Health Pilot Program

This article was originally published in Arkansas Advocate.

The governor and education secretary sent a letter to Arkansas school superintendents Tuesday urging them to join a new pilot program focused on increasing access to mental health care for students and restricting in-school cellphone use.

Building off recommendations from superintendents who met with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Education Secretary Jacob Oliva last month, the program will provide funding for telehealth mental health services, as well as provide support for locating mental health providers and navigating insurance matters, according to a press release.

The pilot program will also give funding to all secondary schools that apply to provide pouches for students to store their phones during the school day, reducing screen time and social media use. More exposure to social media increases kids’ risk of mental health problems, Sanders and Oliva write in their letter.

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“The Natural State is not unique; youth depression, anxiety, and isolation have risen across the country,” they wrote. “But we do have a unique opportunity to address this crisis in a collaborative way. We have made this a priority in our Administration, and we are committing state resources to help with this crisis.”

Sanders backed a 2023 law that would have been the first in the nation to require minors to receive parental permission before signing up for a social media account. A federal judge blocked the law in August, hours before it was set to take effect.

In May, Sanders also sent a copy of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Anxious Generation, to all state and territorial governors in America, as well as Arkansas legislators. According to the press release, she expressed support for four main goals: no smartphones before high school, no social media before age 16, phone-free schools, and more outdoor play and childhood independence.

Proposals to reduce smartphone use have been gaining traction across the country, including in California where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last month vowed to restrict smartphone use during the school day. His comments came a day after the U.S. surgeon general called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms, and the same day that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest district, approved a cellphone ban that’s set to take effect in January.

Florida became the first state to ban cellphones at school last year. Idaho and Ohio have also passed laws cracking down on phone usage, and as many as eight other state legislatures are considering taking similar action, according to Education Week.

Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and X.

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