Senator Portantino’s Mental Health and Dyslexia Screening Bills Clear the Senate Floor

Friday, June 4 2021

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2021

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Senator Portantino’s Mental Health and Dyslexia Screening Bills Clear the Senate Floor


Sacramento, California – Senate Bills 14, 224, and 237, authored by State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), cleared the Senate floor this week with bipartisan support. SB 224 and 14 address the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by mandating mental health education and training programs in schools. SB 237 would require elementary schools to screen students who are at risk for dyslexia.


“It’s critical that we support policies to improve the mental health of California’s youth,” stated Senator Portantino. “As schools transition back to in person learning, teachers are bound to be faced with behavioral health challenges resulting from the emotional impact of the pandemic on their students. By providing mental health education for students and mental health training for educators, we can end the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health and get help to those who need it.”


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 1 in 3 California high school students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Nearly 1 in 5 reported that they have seriously considered attempting suicide.


SB 224 would require all students in California to receive mental health education at least one time during elementary school, one time during middle school, and one time during high school. Educational topics would include but are not limited to the overarching themes and core principles of mental health.


SB 14 requires the California Department of Education to identify training programs for school employees who have direct contact with students. The bill also encourages schools to offer age-appropriate training for 10th-12th grade students to prepare them to recognize behavioral health issues and assist their peers in getting the help they need from school personnel. Additionally, the bill ensures that youth absences from school for mental health issues will be treated as an excused absence in the same way any other health issues are treated.


“Youth in California are facing a mental health crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped a new reality, and many are left without the proper tools to help cope with these mental health challenges,” said Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services. “SB 224 would empower students in their own health journey by giving them access to mental health education in grades K through 12. The CA Alliance commends the California Senate for realizing what an important and game-changing piece of legislation this is, and will continue to advocate for this necessary bill until it is signed into law.”


"NextGen Policy is proud to support SB 14 that would increase California schools' capacity to address and identify youth mental health and substance use challenges,” stated Courtnie Thomas, Mental Health Policy Advisor for NextGen Policy. “This past year has shown us that this type of support is needed now more than ever. We are thrilled that the California State Senate passed this important bill, and look forward to continuing to move this legislation forward in the Assembly."


SB 237 will require the State Board of Education, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, to provide dyslexia screening instruments to be used annually by schools in order to identify students who are at risk for dyslexia.  It is estimated that approximately 10% to 15% of Americans have symptoms of dyslexia, making it the most common form of learning disability. Due to inadequate screening, only about 5% of people with dyslexia are aware that they have it. The proportion of people with dyslexia is believed to be much higher amongst incarcerated individuals. A 2000 study of Texas prisoners estimated that about half the prison population was likely dyslexic, while a 2014 study by the Education Department found that a third of surveyed inmates had trouble with simple reading questions.


SB 237 is personal for Senator Portantino, as he struggled with dyslexia, ADHD, and cross dominance during his own time in school and continues to face these challenges every day.


“SB 237 will unquestionably improve the lives of the countless children who would otherwise not be screened for dyslexia,” stated Senator Portantino. “Early and accurate screening of students at risk for dyslexia helps them thrive in school and succeed throughout their career.”


"Universal screening for risk of dyslexia is a critical first step in getting kids the support they need,” stated Lori DePole, Co-State Director for Decoding Dyslexia California. “We are proud to be a co-sponsor of SB 237 and grateful to Senator Portantino for authoring this important legislation."