Increasing mental health support in schools stirs debate

Jeffco board will give early budget direction March 7

Posted 2/13/19

With the addition of mill levy dollars Jeffco Public Schools will receive the district will be increasing mental health supports for students. However, the way in which the district has designated …

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Increasing mental health support in schools stirs debate

Jeffco board will give early budget direction March 7

Posted

With the addition of mill levy dollars Jeffco Public Schools will receive the district will be increasing mental health supports for students.

However, the way in which the district has designated those supports has caused a lot of conversation within the community.

The plan, introduced last month, designated half-time social and emotional learning specialists to every elementary school. The goal was that this person would increase the social and emotional learning and preventative care at each school.

However, an outpouring of community members including parents, teachers and mental health specialists say having two different people — one doing social emotional learning and the other dealing with special education students — disrupts the culture of a school and the work being done.

“I am passionate about mental health for all students and see the need for increase support,” said Charlae Callejas, a social emotional learning specialist in Jeffco schools.

While Callejas said she sees some support in splitting the SEL and SPED duties, having one provider at a school allows to build consistency and positive report, which she said, is the foundation of a positive mental health relationship.

“One argument is that special education duties may jeopardize availability to the general public because of crisis,” Callejas said. “In my experience all students both special education and general education experience crisis. Regardless of which provider is in the building, students need support.”

Callejas was one of more than a dozen public speakers to voice concerns over the .5 SEL specialists at the Feb. 7 board of education meeting.

Bel Scrogham, parent of a student at Lucas Elementary in Westminster, talked about how the consistency of having one provider in their school helped result in a detailed diagnosis of her daughter. She also said that by having one person everyone in the school talked to regardless of a diagnosis, allowed for no judgement by other students.

“The first step is realizing there is no one size fits all solution,” Scrogham said. “We have to do better. Mental health interventions need to be based on needs.”

Scrogham and several speakers asked the board to consider letting individual schools decide how they hire mental health supports rather than following a district mandate.

“We received much correspondence about whether it’s a good idea,” board member Brad Rupert said of the half-time hire. “By having a rigid separation, it makes sure SEL happens everywhere.”

But Rupert agreed that the district should be more flexible and decisions be made based on what each school needs.

Kevin Carroll, chief student success officer for Jeffco schools, explained to the board staff decisions around the SEL supports.

“We have a dream what mental health supports should look like, fell like,” Carroll said. “That dream has to do with being both proactive and reactive.”

Carroll said the original proposal kept SEL separate from other mental health supports because in many cases, when the roles are combines, the SEL work doesn’t get done.

Carroll explained that a school can still use their school based budget dollars to buy additional supports — including extending their half-time person to a full time. But he fears that if schools are allowed to use mill levy dollars to do that, there will be zero net gain of mental health professionals in a given building.

“This money we have coming in is not the solution,” Carroll said. “It is one step closer to provide what we need to students.”

After board members expressed concerns about being too rigid with the position, Carroll suggested a second option. This would allow the core of the social emotional work to be done by professionals in separate roles, but would allow individual schools to apply for a variance.

A third option was to give money straight to schools.

Board members leaned toward moving forward with option `B’.

“I appreciate the options,” said board member Susan Harmon. “Part of our job here is continuing to look at SBB dollars, how those are allocated and the equity in that. That will affect some schools’ ability to buy up and some schools don’t have that option available to them. That balance for me is the systemic approach with flexibility.”

Board member Amanda Stevens agreed saying, “I don’t think it’s healthy to have 93 different schools doing 93 different thing, but I also don’t think it’s impactful to say everyone is doing this. It negates what each building needs because they are different.”

Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass acknowledged the difficult decision of the board and suggested that the board more forward with option ‘B’ — creating a district level model and a variance process. But he also suggested that this be done just for one year, and the board should reevaluate.

“I think there’s a lot of built-in motivation to make this plan work,” said Board President Ron Mitchell. “I wish we had the resources to allocate all that we need to deliver special education services and a quality social emotional program. If we can deliver a quality SEL program in addition to meeting the need of our special students, that would be great.”

District staff were directed to begin working out more of the details of option B.

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