Mental health services, pay raise for longtime teachers funded in Fairfax Co. schools’ budget

Longtime teachers are slated to receive a pay raise, and virtual mental health services are expected to be made available to students under Fairfax County Public Schools’ recently-passed budget.

As part of the $3.3 billion budget, school board officials allocated $500,000 for telehealth mental health services for students. The Virginia county is still in the early stages of identifying a vendor for the services, but county officials said program possibilities include access to physical and behavioral health providers and mobile services that would allow students to use their devices for symptom management or tracking.

School board member Abrar Omeish said the program has been in the works for over a year, and that she and the board assembled a student mental health working group with representatives from every high school to seek feedback on the initiative.

The school system’s Department of Special Services is evaluating potential vendors to offer the virtual mental health services to students, and Omeish said the department expects the program to begin next school year. The program, Omeish said, is intended to be similar to the county’s partnership with, which provides students with virtual tutoring help.

The concept, Omeish said, stems largely from the collegiate approach to mental health, which in many cases includes an app that enables students to access therapy appointments or round-the-clock support.

Ava Belmont, a recent Mount Vernon High School graduate, helped research the telemental health proposal and said her own experiences motivated her to help make mental health resources more readily available to all students.

“I definitely started struggling with my mental health around middle school,” Belmont said. “Then thankfully, I was able to access services and be able to do things outside of schools. But I know that so many students aren’t able to do that, and so I think that it would have been really meaningful to see those sorts of changes made so that students who needed it would be able to [access] it, because not everyone has that type of insurance or anything around that area.”

Belmont’s research and proposal cited data from the county’s 2019-2020 youth survey, including that over 46% of students surveyed said they had something bad said to them about their race or culture in the last year, and that over 36% of students said they had experienced a high stress level in the last month.

Fairfax County, Belmont said, offers some mental health services for students deemed “high risk” but not for the general student population.

“Implementing telemental health services would be great, but there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done already, from the basic level, to be able to destigmatize mental health and realize that we all have mental health,” Belmont said, “and it’s really trying to foster that positive mental health that we can talk openly about it and communicate in a positive way around it.”

Separately, all employees will receive a 4% raise, and longtime teachers will receive an additional increase. The county allocated $4.3 million to add an additional step to current salary scales for veteran employees.

School board members previously said the change will impact about 10% of employees.

“The work that was done to honor employees who are stuck at the top of the scales will be appreciated by 10% of our school workforce who have the most years of service in FCPS,” said Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, in a statement. “The overall raise for all employees of a step plus 4% is critical to attract and retain talented teaching and support employees.”

More information about what’s included in the school system’s budget is available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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