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Alachua County School District Advisory Council discusses solutions to mental health and behavioral issues

The Alachua County School District Advisory Council meets at the district office to discuss mental health and behavior in students in the district. (Riley Beiswenger/WUFT News)
The Alachua County School District Advisory Council meets at the district office to discuss mental health and behavior in students in the district. (Riley Beiswenger/WUFT News)

Increasing concerns regarding student behavior and mental health within the Alachua County School District led the District Advisory Council to meet on Tuesday to discuss strategies to better support the district’s students.

Many students, especially in the middle and high schools, are struggling academically and socially due to a lack of support. This has led to a disruption of learning for students in the classroom, according to Keith Watts, a physics teacher and School Advisory Council representative at Gainesville High School.

Many of these issues stem from the lack of education these students are receiving in civil discourse, according to Watts.

“No one has really taught them how to disagree in a way that isn't throwing every ugly word in the book or every personal insult,” Watts said.

There are not enough systems and staff within the schools currently to address the problem at hand, according to Jenn Garrett, co-chair of the council.

“We need more feedback on how we can support students because clearly we are having trouble doing that,” said Kathleen Endorf, a school counselor at Santa Fe High School.

The suggestions discussed in the meeting, if implemented by the school district, will allow teachers and school staff to help struggling students.

The council discussed a need for a different solution to aid troubled students across the district. The meeting addressed the issues across the schools in the district and made recommendations for the district’s superintendent to review.

The district is currently reliant on out-of-school suspensions to deal with troubled kids at the middle school and high school levels, but this action is not currently solving the problem, according to Watts.

“An out-of-school suspension is a vacation,” Watts said. “They don’t need to be separated from school; they need to be separated from whatever that environment is.” Watts is referring to the environment causing the behavioral distress.

The students' behavior is not being improved by pulling them out of school. It is only encouraging them to continue because they know if they are bad enough, they will get out, according to Watts.

The schools within the district do not have sufficient support from programs and staff to help the kids with behavioral and mental health struggles, according to Endorf.

“We have need for more people and supervisors and it is not a need for 504s and IEPs. It is the kids that are in between that you cannot just throw into a 504 to give them services,” said Adrianna Keen, a SAC chair at Chiles Elementary and parent.

Their recommendations suggest that a system and staff separate from the deans needs to be put in place to address behavior issues in each school, according to Garrett.

The district is not providing the schools with enough Behavioral Resource Teachers to serve the students in schools, Watts said.

The ratio of those teachers to students needs to be lower, according to Watts.

The council made recommendations based on discussion during the meeting, and it will send them to the school board as a next step toward solving these issues.

The council recommends the superintendent create a task force by to gather community input around common life management and resilience challenges for middle and high school students.

By December, the council wants to see the school board study how to implement a pilot program of life management and resiliency skills in middle school curriculum and classrooms. If it is feasible, according to the study, the council suggested funding a pilot program in the 2025-2026 school year at one or two schools. Should those suggestions not work, the council wants to know the barriers or other recommendations the district offers.

The Alachua County School Board will next consider the council’s recommendations for implementation within the school district.

Riley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing