Students push for mental health counselors after Garfield High shooting

In the wake of a deadly shooting at Garfield High School, Seattle students are advocating for more funds towards mental health resources.

Natalya McConnell, an 18-year-old member of the Seattle Student Union and senior at Franklin High School, has been vocal about the need for these resources.

"There's not a lack of money right now. It's about what our elected officials, Mayor Bruce Harrell, does with that money, and we're trying to put the pressure on him to actually use that money," McConnell said.

McConnell said the funds are available, but are not being utilized to address critical issues such as school shootings and student mental health. She has spent considerable time working on these issues and expressed frustration with the situation.

"It really should be adults and elected officials who are doing this work. Instead, we have to fight to win $20 million and then after we win $20 million, we have to fight to make elected officials actually use that money to help us," said McConnell. "We have to fight every step of the way, and it's exhausting."

She says she is disheartened, but not surprised, by another shooting at Garfield High School.

"It's no wonder that school shootings continue to happen. Many have happened at Garfield High School and around the area in the last couple of months. This is going to continue to happen as long as elected officials and Mayor Bruce Harrell continue to neglect students," said McConnell.

She believes the funds could have already been used to prevent the recent shooting and could still be used to prevent future incidents.

Currently, there is only one mental health counselor for 1,300 students at Franklin High School. McConnell said, "I don't feel safe in school. I am scared that Franklin will be the next school shooting."

She strongly believes that proper mental health resources can help mitigate violence.

"If we had mental health resources, students wouldn't be angry. They'd have a place to talk. They'd have a trusted adult to talk to and they wouldn't take that anger and draw a gun on another student and kill them," said McConnell. "If they felt like they belonged as part of the school community, they likely wouldn't have pulled the trigger."

Students argue that the presence of school resource officers (SROs) would not have prevented the recent shooting.

McConnell also criticized the presence of police in schools, citing studies that show increased violence and the likelihood of school shootings when police are present.

"Those weapons should never have gotten in the hands of students. We need to regulate guns even more, to make sure that no young person has access to a gun," said McConnell. "If there was a police officer at Garfield High School, the school shooting would not have been prevented. This happened outside the school and police officers are not preventative measures. In fact, they make students even more angry and more likely to commit a violent act."

Instead, students are calling for the $20 million allocated for mental health counselors to be utilized. This funding, which students secured in November after a shooting at Ingraham High School, is currently tied up and requires city council action to be spent.

Miles Hagiopian, a freshman at Franklin High School and member of the Seattle Student Union, echoed McConnell's concerns.

"With the latest stuff that's happened at Garfield and our surrounding area, it's definitely made me feel a lot more unsafe," said Hagiopian. "Before this, counselors and therapists were super overworked. So we desperately need this at this moment."

Hagiopian urged the city to implement the funds as soon as possible and to continue funding more mental health therapists. He believes the city's past actions have not effectively addressed student safety.

"Just generally, like the way that the city has funded programs like ShotSpotter and other stuff, and just surveillance technology, instead of funding resources that do really keep our school safe," said Hagiopian. "I don't think putting more guns into schools will help anything. If anything, I think it will make the problem worse. We've seen time and time again that the police really haven't been able to stop these events. And it really is therapists and resources like that that'll actually help students be safe."

Mayor Bruce Harrell's office responded, stating that the city is investing $9.6 million, including $4.5 million for a pilot mental health program in five schools:

"The City has made stopgap investments to respond to immediate student needs and will continue to push the state to increase investments in mental health resources, counselors, and other critical services to ensure the behavioral health and well-being of all Seattle students."

"We can't solve it by police alone. What I tell the youth is to keep the hope," Mayor Harrell previously told FOX 13 News following the shooting Friday.

McConnell, however, remains firm in her stance.

"I will have hope as soon as Mayor Bruce Harrell implements his money. I want to leave by the end of this year knowing that by next year students are going to have the mental health resources they need, and that will give me hope," said McConnell.

Additionally, the mayor's office says the $20 million being advocated for by the students is sourced from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax, collected since the beginning of 2024, and requires action from the City Council to spend.

Further details on Mayor Harrell’s investment plan are expected next week.


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