In recognition of World Mental Health Day, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly issued a fact sheet to support students with mental health disabilities, their families, and their schools in the era of COVID-19. Along with the fact sheet, OCR released a letter to educators highlighting the civil rights obligations of schools and postsecondary institutions to students with mental health disabilities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on student mental health are widespread and deeply concerning,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights. “OCR is committed to providing resources to support students with mental health disabilities, including those who may be at risk for self-harm.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division says the Department of Justice is committed to safeguarding the rights of students with mental health disabilities through vigorous enforcement of the civil rights laws, particularly given the continuing effects of the pandemic. “Students should be supported and not excluded from educational opportunities on the basis of disability,” she said. The OCR’s June 2021 report, Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students, showed that COVID-19 has had disproportionately harsh effects on many students with disabilities.

The fact sheet titled Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Students at Risk of Self-Harm in the Era of COVID-19, provides information about federal civil rights laws that protect students with mental health disabilities. It includes scenarios that illustrate when the Department of Education might investigate a potential violation; gives schools and postsecondary institutions a list of action steps to create an environment that is responsive to students with mental health disabilities; and provides educational and crisis resources for students, families, and educators.

World Mental Health Day is an international day to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. More than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is particularly important to acknowledge the pandemic’s impact on mental health at home and around the world, to present an opportunity for meaningful conversations about mental health and to celebrate schools and other institutions that have found new and promising ways to provide mental health services to their populations.