Congresswoman Scanlon to HHS & DOE: “Supporting the health and wellbeing of our students is your responsibility”

June 15, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon calls attention to the mental health crisis disproportionately affecting Latina/x students in the Philadelphia region and nationwide.

This letter, co-signed by 28 members of Congress, comes on the heels of an in-depth report produced by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and 13 Latina/x students in the Philadelphia School District. NWLC’s report, We Are Not Invisible | No Somos Invisibles: Latina Girls, Mental Health, and Philadelphia Schools, examines this mental health crisis and how this Administration’s actions and rhetoric contribute to this public health concern.

“Instead of working to quell these anxieties among Latinx students, members of the Administration have implicitly denied that they exist,” Congresswoman Scanlon said. “Schools are required by law to be safe havens where students can learn, free from the threat of immigration enforcement. But, under this administration, minority students live and learn in fear.”

In 2017 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about half of all Latina high school girls in Philadelphia felt persistently sad or hopeless. One in five considered suicide and more than one in seven attempted suicide. This number grows for lesbian, bisexual, and queer Latina girls in Philadelphia. In 2017, nearly 50% considered suicide and two out of five attempted suicide.

“This is not an issue unique to Philadelphia, it is a crisis that has been largely ignored across the country, that is compounded by not just the rhetoric coming from this Administration but the proposed defunding of critical programs like Medicaid and the continued disregard of IDEA regulations, which support the health and wellbeing of students,” Congresswoman Scanlon said.

Congresswoman Scanlon’s letter also highlights the underrepresentation of people of color in the teaching and medical professions. In Philadelphia, only three percent of teachers were Latina women during the 2016–17 school year, even though Latina girls made up 9.4 percent of students the year prior. Available data shows that Philadelphia’s rates for the underrepresentation of Latinx teachers are consistent with nationwide trends. Students need supportive adults in schools who can understand their lived experiences.

“The mental health crisis primarily impacting Latina girls can no longer be ignored. Secretaries DeVos and Azar must account for the Trump administration’s response — including examining administration actions that are potentially worsening student mental health outcomes,” Noelia Rivera-Calderon, lead author of We Are Not Invisible, said. “Latina girls deserve to learn in schools that support them. The federal response to this crisis will be critical in impacting the course of Latina girls’ educations and lives.”

This letter was co-signed by the following members of Congress: Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Brendan F. Boyle, Raúl M. Grijalva, James P. McGovern, Nydia M. Velázquez, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Jackie Speier, Grace F. Napolitano, Nanette Diaz Barragán, J. Luis Correa, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Juan Vargas, Jamie Raskin, Susan A. Davis, Dina Titus, Ayanna Pressley, Katie Hill, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Sylvia Garcia, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Linda T. Sánchez, Tony Cárdenas, Carolyn B. Maloney, Darren Soto, Jan Schakowsky, and José E. Serrano.