Why it’s a problem: San Diego is taking the securitization of mental health to new extremes. KPBS, part of PBS and affiliate of NPR, reports that San Ysidro School District is screening students as young as seven years of age for mental health concerns and ranking those students based on risk. The students are being asked questions, including:

Do you like school? Are you turning in your homework on time? Are you able to get along with others?

This is next level invasive, similar to the problematic implementation of Situation Tables, but journalist Katie Hyson, a “Racial Justice and Social Equity Reporter,” uncritically covers this story like it’s a positive development.

Whereas “Students of Concern” and other risk and threat assessment protocols, which are already invasive, put the onus on faculty and other community members to refer individual students, blanket screening programs like this allow schools to identify and target students who may not be exhibiting any concerning behavior. “Rather than relying on the students to seek them out,” screening potentially coerces students into mental health treatment.

For the hero of this story, Hyson unironically chose to feature Shea Prophet, who is the director of the program. When I first saw Prophet’s photo splashed across the top of the news article, I immediately said to myself, that’s a “cop,” and lo and behold, it turns out that Prophet is a former correctional officer.

The author quotes Prophet, who claims that the new screening tool is intended to avert the school to prison pipeline by connecting students with resources, even though one of the students quoted in the story admits that there is a lack of counselors, particularly counselors of color, at the school, which implemented the screening procedures last year. As Professor Nicole Nguyen has noted in a report for Vigilant Love, the embedding of law enforcement within mental health services, particularly within marginalized communities, puts multiply marginalized individuals at greater risk of incarceration, surveillance, and coercive treatment, and creates further distrust of mental health systems.

Ironically, in the next article in this series, Hyson notes that the Temecula Valley school board implemented a requirement last year for “school staff to notify parents if their child shows signs of being transgender — like asking to use a different name, pronouns or bathroom at school.” Not surprisingly, the author notes that students reported being “outed to unsupportive parents,” “being kicked out of their house,” and having to suppress their identities as a result of these surveillance and reporting measures. The author quotes a student who states that “the school districts’ actions… make LGBTQ+ students afraid to use the school’s mental health services.”

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