The Counselor Controversy

The recommended ratio of school counselors to students is 1-250. Many Broward County Schools are well over that ratio.


Isabel Gleeson

Mrs. Romero, South Broward's family guidence counselor. "Most of the time, just having somebody to listen to you vent helps a lot in a situation," said Romero.

Alexandra Realmuto, Editor

After the shooting in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and rising death tolls from gun violence coupled with the political grid lock over gun control, politicians are focusing their efforts on mental health and catching a tragedy before it happens. But that is proving easier said than done.

Take school guidance counselors for example. The ratio of guidance counselors to students in any given public school is shameful. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of  250 students per school counselor. Nationwide only three states, Wyoming, Vermont and New Hampshire, follow the ratio guideline. In Florida, the ratio of guidance counselors to students is 1 to 480, drastically higher than the recommended average.  The freshman class alone in SBHS numbers 564 students to their one school counselor – double the recommended number.

“Our mental health is as important or even more important than our physical health and students having the availability of someone they could actually reach out to whenever they can could prevent tragedies if taken care of properly,” said SBHS 9th grader Dafne Ostermuncher.

Originally, guidance counselors could not give emotional guidance to students unless they had a degree in psychology said Ms.Harris, the 9th grade counselor at South Broward. To get around this, schools changed the name from guidance counselor to school counselor and had them focus on tasks dealing with academic, career and school activities that prepare them for their future. Broward County Public Schools still use the term guidance counselors to mean school counselor. Even with the new name, schools are still advised to keep the 1 – 250 ratio of counselors to students in mind.

But, given the ratio, it’s overwhelming to give every student the time they need. Now, people are starting to speak out. Even former MSD student and March For Our Lives activist David Hogg has added it to his platform as part of a national movement to stop gun violence.

“Guidance counselors are not guidance counselors they’re schedule makers, ” said Hogg.

According to Ralph Aiello, the Director of School Counseling and BRACE Advisement for Broward County Public Schools, school counselors work with students in a more broad spectrum of tasks based off of academic, career and personal activities to prepare the student for their future.

“Their [counselors are] doing a lot of roles and not their primary job,” said Aiello, “We’re trying to have them do their job description to improve these ratios.”

A multi-tiered system of support has been in place for schools to notice a student needs mental health help by a decline in their behavior and grades.

In the multi-tiered system, a set of amount of the school population is reached through each tier, and the intensity of the help increases throughout the three tiers.

In tier 1 of the program, 80% of students are reached in a social and emotional learning committee to guide students through test anxiety,  or better resilience. In tier 2, 15% of students are reached as students are placed into small groups of 6-8 other peers where they do counseling strategies, and in tier 3, one-on-one counseling is done between the student and social worker or family counselor.

Signs that a student needs to be placed in a higher tier or be referred to an outside source is done by help with the concerns of students, parents, and teachers concerned for a student.

Dependent of how funding is issued schools are not required to have a school counselor by law. But, BCPS does send in a guidance report with every school containing at least one counselor in elementary schools, two in middle schools, and one per grade level in high schools.

Many students believe that there should be two counselors per grade level, to roughly ample the recommended amount.

“There should be one counselor in charge of the emotional side and one counselor in charge of the academic side of a student,” said Ostermuncher. “It’s a lot of people for only one person to deal with.”

Here at SBHS, there is a counselor for the emotional side of student though, and her name is Ms. Romero. Ms. Romero is the family counselor at all Broward County Schools, from grades K-12, her job is to assist students in not only helping with family issues, but social and emotional issues too.

A lot of students didn’t even know this service was available.

“Its crazy how so many of us don’t even know she exists, but yet her services can help so many,” said 9th grader, Ethan Lacouty.

But Ms.Romero isn’t the only way to spot warning signs of a students mental health in schools, and it’s been that way for many years, even before school shootings became a news regular.

“Most of the time, just having somebody to listen to you vent helps a lot in a situation,” said Romero.