School Employees in Tangle of Distress

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OCPS ColorOrange County Public Schools employees about 13,700 teachers, 8,500 Education Support Personnel, and about 670 administrators.  Of those numbers, 1,058 have used their employer-provided health insurance to pay for mental health visits between October and April of the current school year.  In the tenth largest district in the country, over one thousand school employees are clearly experiencing distress and turmoil to the degree that they have been motivated to seek professional mental health services.

According to information reviewed by the West Orlando News, from October to December, 2015, the most recent quarterly information available, the mental health needs of school system employees is significant. The range of services requested by and provided to employees includes anger management and communication group sessions, stress management services, and a variety of individual services to help teachers and other employees cope with the daunting demands of work in OCPS. Some employees were given supervisory referrals to seek counseling or other types of mental health services, intervention referrals, or consultations, although those services were provided to only ten individuals.

The picture related to the mental health of school employees is incomplete.   This information does not include individuals who use spouse or family insurance to pay for mental health care, prescriptions for mental health, or other mental health treatment.  The 1,058 employees who have used their OCPS insurance to seek help, represent a substantial portion of the school workforce.  OCPS currently budgets $180,102 for the Employee Assistance Program services.

Numerous individuals were interviewed about threats, administrative bullying, hostility, and other reports of mismanagement and mistreatment by OCPS principals and other employees, but none were willing to have their names published because of concern that their mistreatment would escalate or the individuals would be targeted for mistreatment.  Some terms that three different employees have used to describe their working conditions include, “blanket threats,” “yearly increases in stress…causing stress related illness,” and “racist.”  These are examples of experiences that have motivated employees to seek professional help from the Employee Assistance Program.

The Orange County Classroom Teachers Association and the Orange Education Support Professionals Association are the two affiliated unions that represent teachers and ESPs in OCPS, respectively.  The organizations field reports of mistreatment and help employees address misconduct by principals and others.  The OCCTA is currently conducting the second and final part of a Principal Evaluation Survey to “identify principals that support and encourage the vital work that you do each and every day in Orange County Public School(s),” as it stated in an email to members seeking participation in the survey.  The Principal Evaluation Survey is closing on June 13th and employees have been asked not to use OCPS computers or the OCPS computer network to participate the survey.

Employees who are in need of mental health services, or who simply wish to find out what services are available, can use their employer-provided benefit by scheduling an appointment with Orlando Behavioral Healthcare at 407-647-1781.

Dr. Carl Howard is an Orlando teacher and union member.

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