SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Parents and educators in San Jose’s largest school district are upset with a plan to routinely pull counselors and instructional coaches into the classroom to help offset a severe staffing shortage.

“They need more counseling. Kids are having more problems — more anxiety, more suicidal thoughts, more truancy,” said Crystal Calhoun, spokeswoman for the San Jose Unified Equity Coalition.

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A San Jose Unified School District spokesman says the district has roughly half the number of substitute teachers compared to a normal school year. That’s made it especially challenging to find qualified people to cover classrooms for absent teachers.

“Our parents count on the school system when they drop their children off at school. All of our substitutes are credentialed and authorized to be in that classroom. And every classroom needs a teacher every day,” said Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon.

Before the pandemic, counselors would occasionally fill in in the classroom but it was exceptionally rare. Under a new deal struck with the teacher’s union, counselors could fill in as often as once a week.

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“Mental health doesn’t follow a schedule. Students don’t only have needs when we’re on campus,” said Dana Fate, a counselor at Hoover Middle School in San Jose.

Fate says she believes the district could come up with a different and better solution to staffing shortages that do not affect counseling. She says removing her from her current role — even once a week — will be to the detriment of students.

“We’re coming back from a global pandemic. Students are facing a mental health crisis. A lot of my day is taken up with suicide assessment, safety plans, talking kids through anxiety attacks,” Fate said.

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