KNIGHTDALE, N.C. – A mother of two children who are dealing with mental illness says a new law will be a big help to parents in her situation.

Beth Anne Okeeffe's two daughters struggle with anxiety. Her older daughter, Madison, has an instructional accommodation plan. Her younger daughter, Allicyn, currently doesn't, but Okeeffe said Thursday she had to work closely with Allicyn's second-grade teacher this year to make sure her daughter got the help she needed. There are days when Allicyn's anxiety is so severe Okeeffe has trouble getting her all they way into her classroom.

“There is a lot of worry when I pick them up. What kind of hardships have they had for the day,” she says.

On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation to require a mental health plan in every school in North Carolina. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, any instructional staff working in grades K-12 will need at least six hours of training in youth mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse and similar areas. School personnel for grades 6-12 also will be provided with a suicide risk referral protocol. Okeeffe said this requirement will be a big help for parents.

“Our children are in our schools often times more than they are at home, and it's important for those teachers who are in their lives every day to be able to know that this is the first step, and to give them the support that they need,” she says.

The new law applies to charter, innovative, and laboratory schools as well as traditional public schools.