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School Social Workers Speak Out Against Changes To Licensure Requirements

A woman sits at a long table speaking into a microphone at a public hearing. Two men and three women sit next to her.
Rocio Hernandez
Andrea Miller and a dozen other school social workers voiced concerns about a rule change to the Utah State Board of Education Thursday night. They fear the rule would eliminate the training social workers undergo to effectively meet students’ needs. ";

Social workers in Utah schools say they face difficult problems on a daily basis: students dealing with trauma, mental health problems and other social needs.

Now, in what the State Board of Education says is an effort to attract more people to the job, a new rule changes the licensing that a social worker has to have to work in a school setting. They will still need a state professional license, but it does away with the educator license that has been required.

At a public hearing Thursday night, current and former school social workers said they were not given a chance to give feedback on the rule before it was approved two months ago. 

They also said the specialized training they received to work in schools goes beyond the training to become a social worker in any other setting.

“In my school, I teach almost 600 kids every week social and emotional skills,” said Theresa Richardson, a social worker at Redwood Elementary School in West Valley City.

But Angie Stallings, the board’s Deputy Superintendent of Policy, said the educator license may be putting a cost and time burden on people interested in this field.

“We received feedback from some of our smaller school districts and rural school districts who said it’s very hard to find candidates that have both licenses,” Stallings said. 

Stallings could not say which school districts submitted that feedback, but did say that out of the 220 school social workers currently employed by Utah schools, about a fifth of them needed a letter of authorization from the board to let them work without the educator license.

The preliminary draft for the new rule was distributed to school districts in July to solicit public comment. It was approved in October. Board staff believe that the summer break and confusion over which positions the rule affects may have resulted in stakeholders like social workers not receiving prior notification about the rule. Last night’s public meeting was held at the request of 15 individuals who wrote to the board. 

The board is expected to decide in its January meeting whether it will amend the rule or move forward with it as is. 

The public can submit written comments to the board via email through Friday, Dec. 13.

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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