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Seattle Student Union says $2M telehealth plan isn't enough

Students rally for gun safety in 2022 after a student is killed at Ingraham High School.
Seattle Student Union
Students rally for gun safety in 2022 after a student is killed at Ingraham High School.

Parents and students in Seattle are still reeling from the shooting at Garfield High School that left one teenager dead earlier this month.

One student group — the Seattle Student Union — has been advocating for gun control for years. It now wants Mayor Bruce Harrell to spend a projected $20 million dollars in tax revenue the city promised at the end of last year for mental health support in schools. It's not satisfied with his latest announcement of $2.4 million for telehealth therapy services.

Harrell's office said the city began collecting the tax revenue at the beginning of this year, and said it requires action from the city council to spend. Because there's a nationwide shortage of mental health workers, telehealth is the best immediate option for culturally appropriate care that will reach more than 2,000 students, said Callie Craighead, a spokesperson for the mayor.

The city also plans to station police officers outside Garfield High School and expand patrols in the surrounding neighborhood through the end of the school year.

KNKX reporter Lilly Ana Fowler asked one of the group's founders to explain why the Union was formed and what its ambitions are moving forward:

My name is Natalya McConnell. I go to school at Franklin High School. I'm currently a senior about to graduate next week. I was one of the members who founded the organization back in 2022.

I entered high school during the pandemic. It started at the end of my eighth grade year and then continued. We were concerned at the growing level of COVID cases in the district. And so we originally were organizing around COVID safety and so we pushed for the district to provide N95 masks for students across the entire district as well as staff members.

And we won that, which was tremendous and we started thinking about other issues in the district and realized there are so many issues in the district. We don't want to just have to focus on one and that's why we're the Seattle Student Union. It allows us to do work on every single issue that affects students.

From the moment we were founded, we decided on the demand that we needed to increase the amount of mental health counselors in Seattle. Students were very lonely and didn't have the resources to talk to someone.

And so we realized there needed to be more school mental health counselors in all of the schools. This was an issue before school shootings. And then the shooting at Ingraham High School happened. Then we organized the protest at Seattle City Hall.

Immediately within about a day of the protest at Seattle City Hall, we'd won the $4.5 million for school mental health counselors, though it hadn't officially been passed by the city council. We had a commitment, and it was clear that that's what the council was going to do. And they followed through on that. Because politicians, when they feel the pressure from a movement from thousands of students walking out, they listen to us because they can't not pay attention or else, you know, they might not win election the next time.

And then we built on all of that. So we organized students in buses to go down to Olympia, and we did a youth lobby day. And then we worked with other groups to then continue to fight for the statewide assault weapons ban.

We have proof that if we build a movement of students, and we organized together, we can actually win something and change something. And that's why I'm really excited that we won the $20 million for school mental health counselors. But I am disappointed that we have to keep fighting and keep organizing to actually see this money through.

The mayor has indicated that he might spend the money on telehealth, which is not what we've been demanding. That's not what students wanted at all. I don't know where he got that idea from, and we're absolutely against that because that makes it inaccessible for a lot of students who maybe don't have access to the internet.

Many students, you know, they commit school shootings because they're angry, and they're sad, and they feel like they don't belong to the community. But if they feel like they do belong to the community, and they feel like they can get help and talk about their emotions in a mature way with someone who understands, they're not likely to commit a school shooting.

Natalya McConnell is a senior at Franklin High School in Seattle and one of the founders of the Seattle Student Union.


Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Updated: June 18, 2024 at 1:18 PM PDT
Updated with additional statement from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's office.
Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to lfowler@knkx.org.