Meghan’s Law Requires W.Va.School Education In Self-Harm And Eating Disorders
Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, a new West Virginia school program requires teachers and school staff to receive training and education in self-harm behaviors and eating disorders.
Meghan’s Law, as it’s known, stems from a near-death health episode with Jefferson County Del. Wayne Clark’s teenage daughter, Meghan, after she was told she was too fat for a school cheer team. Randy Yohe spoke with Clark about implementation of the program, and how his family is doing.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Yohe: Training for state school personnel and education for middle and high school students on self harm behavior and eating disorders begins this September first. Where do things stand on putting plans into action?
Clark: These trainings will occur during the teacher’s early school development program, before the kids come in, and they'll have their first training in place. So that they can kind of learn some of the triggers on what to look for that kind of stuff, along with the service personnel and anyone else that comes in contact with the kids.
Yohe: You mentioned coaches, as well, was anything different or specific in that regard?
Clark: Well, the hard part with the coaches is changing their culture of how and how they speak to kids in regards to making comments, like “you're too fat,” or “you need to lose weight” that can't lead to some sort of misunderstanding by the kid. So, we want to make sure that the coaches are using correct wording as an example. If you have an offensive lineman on a football team, and that lineman is 280 pounds, but hasn't spent the day in the gym, maybe the coach instead of saying, “you're just a fatty,” the coach should say “hey, let's work on you cleaning up your frame by getting you in the gym, getting you to lifting weights,” that kind of stuff.
Yohe: Another important element is faculty and staff awareness of a problem in class or anywhere in school, if there's a situation that needs immediate attention, right?
Clark: Correct. So if a teacher sees a kid one of the one of the triggers is, self harm. So what the kid might do in the evening before is they might cut themselves. That's an immediate pain relief, that helps them address the stress or anxiety situation that they're dealing with. And then, during school, obviously, they can't cut themselves, but what they'll do is they'll take a rubber band, and they'll put a rubber band over top of the cut. So a teacher might see a kid popping the rubber band on their wrist, or wherever the cut is, like the teacher might see the kid using the back of the eraser, and erasing on their hand or their arm, giving that burning sensation. So identifying that, and then how to handle that, how to not necessarily scold the kid, but walk up to the kid and politely ask them what kind of situations are they going through? What anxiety are they feeling? Or, are they nervous about the assignment, what can the teacher do to help to alleviate this anxiety? Or, did something happen in the hallway? So, rather than yell at the kid, identify, that this kid here is doing some sort of self harm, because of some sort of a situation. Now, how do I address that?
You have teachers that are doing cafeteria duty, and cafeteria aides as they're walking around, and they're watching kids just sit there and not eat on purpose. Or maybe they're eating and then spitting it out in napkins, and they have trays full of napkins, that's full of food. They're trying to hide it that way. So we want to make sure that the kids are identified at an early stage so that they don't get too far gone.
Yohe: We know self-harm behaviors and eating disorders affect thousands state wide, millions nationwide. You explained to me that this is not an instant fix by any means, and it can be a durational, even lifelong challenge for any family. How is your family and Meghan doing?
Clark: So we're handling things. Well we have situations here and there. Obviously, we have another huge stress situation going on in the household with my wife and her multiple sclerosis diagnosis that was recent, in January. So it's very important that we're paying attention to the little things to make sure that we don't have a trigger on Meghan or even her twin sister, because it's not uncommon for it to make its way through the household. So, at this point, we're doing okay, but it's an everyday, I don't want to say struggle, but it's in our minds every single day, because we never know when something could come up.