CHARLESTON, W. Va. – When West Virginia students and staff return to school this fall, they will be required to undergo training on the effects of self-harm and eating disorders.
The program aims to identify warning signs, increase prevention and provide treatment options.
Drew McClanahan, director of government relations with the state’s Department of Education, told MetroNews the training is a new requirement under a state law approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jim Justice earlier this year.
“This will enable any school staff member to be able to identify early warning signs of eating disorders and self-harm and also know how to report this to the future,” McClanahan said.
HB 4074 is called “Meghan’s Law”, named after the daughter of delegate Wayne Clark (R-Jefferson). Meghan Clark, one of her 15-year-old twin daughters, developed an eating disorder last year after her cheerleading coach criticized her weight. She weighed only 126 pounds at the time.
Meghan dropped to 90 pounds when she was admitted to the Center of Discovery, an eating disorder treatment program. She eventually regained her weight to around 119 pounds, her father told MetroNews.
Clark said her daughter had over-exercised, restricted food, cut herself with razors and when she felt like she was not losing weight she started purging herself by hiding food at the table .
Under the new law, staff in all 55 county school systems would be trained every three years.
Students in grades 5-12 will receive general information and resources regarding eating disorders and self-harm.
“We don’t want to just focus on what’s to come. We really want to focus on prevention and allow students to identify a caring, caring adult they can turn to,” said Stephanie Hayes, Office of Student Support and Welfare Coordinator.
Teachers will not be the only staff members to receive the training. It will also include those who run sports teams and extracurricular activities.
“A coach, keeper, secretary or teacher can have a profound impact on any student’s life,” McClanahan said. “It’s imperative and it can certainly change a student’s life.”
WVDE is working with a group of experts to develop the training, including representatives from the Office of Behavioral Health of the State Department of Health and Human Resources, the Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of West Virginia, from the WVU Disordered Eating Center of Charleston, Westberg Health Systems and Mission West Virginia.
The department will provide information to health and physical education teachers as well as school principals, so that they can discuss how best to implement the training in all schools over the next few weeks.