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Casey DeSantis pitches student mental health initiatives

If students feel supported, educators say, schools will be safer and more productive

TAMPA — Appearing Thursday at Hillsborough High School, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis unveiled three initiatives as part of her campaign to support student mental health.

The three measures, all under the HOPE banner, are designed to make schools more welcoming to students who might feel isolated, and identify best practices in assisting students who struggle emotionally. The acronym HOPE stands for Helping Organizations, Professionals and Educators.

DeSantis did not take any questions after her presentation about the possible cost of these initiatives, or need for legislative approval. In an email later to the Tampa Bay Times, Helen Aguirre Ferre, the governor’s director of communications, wrote, “we are not anticipating any additional funds that may be needed at this time for these initiatives to launch.”

The plan that DeSantis outlined calls for Eric Hall, chancellor for innovation for the Department of Education, to spearhead a fact-finding effort to identify best mental health practices in the schools.

At the school level, DeSantis envisions “HOPE ambassadors” who will reach out to students who might feel isolated or marginalized.

“It might seem simplistic,” she said. “But really, something as simple as saying hello, how are you doing, are you doing okay, you want to sit with me? ... can change everything.”

DeSantis also announced the creation of an awards program to commend students and staff for exhibiting compassion in the schools.