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LASD will purchase comprehensive mental health program

Director of Pupil Services Carolyn Fiascki presented the pilot program for a Comprehensive School Based Mental Health System to the LASD Board on Monday. The program, which will cost over $.5 million for the first year, will provide access to mental health services for students, staff, and parents within the district and be paid for by COVID funds.

Fiascki was joined by Dr. Ray Christner from the program’s provider, Cognitive Health Solutions (CHS), who assisted in answering questions and giving explanations of the program.

“The purpose of this is to pull together our educators and our staff to help to respond to the needs of our students with mental health issues, while fostering a good school climate that supports teaching and learning,” said Fiascki.

Fiascki, who has been with LASD for 23 years, said the district has been doing the first three tiers of mental health services throughout her tenure and that currently every student and teacher gets assistance and support in the classroom.

LASD is looking to go above and beyond the current support by providing clinical-type services in the schools. The district would continue collaboration with CHS and add a full time psychologist, a behavioral specialist, and a mental health worker, all contracted through CHS. The annual cost for the “all-in” plan would be $508,000.

Concerns were raised over the involvement of parents in the process of assisting their children with mental health services. “You have to think about this educationally,” said Christner, “None of it would ever happen without parent consent. Parents should be involved all the way. We’re just trying to put something into place that gives access to the families.”

Christner noted that most local mental health clinics are now scheduling well into December 2021 and beyond or have stopped accepting new patients because of extensive waiting lists. This in-house program gives parents and their students access to clinical assistance within the district.

Other concerns were raised about the service’s price tag. “There is the possibility of other funding,” said Christner, “The budget may stay the same, but the budget for the district may not, so the goal is to find other funding sources, whether that be third party payers, whether it is grant money, or sheer decrease.”

Christner noted that it takes at least 2 years to get the system established, and said CHS would be supplying quarterly data to the board for goal tracking which would help the board and administration determine the effectiveness of the program.

“I envision that the budget should go down, not up.” said Christner. “Anytime you start a mental health program of this magnitude, the first year there is more need because there are more students that need the services. But the goal of starting this is to give kids the skills so that they don’t need it.”

The program will help children develop stress and anger management skills, but would not delve into personal issues. The goal is to help the students succeed in school.

“No other school in the area is doing this,” said Dr. Fiascki. “There is no set standard for this type of program. No one size fits all.”

After discussions on the program, the recommendation to approve the concept for development of the program was amended to approve the Comprehensive Mental Health Plan Pilot, using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for the all-In option for 1 year with a reevaluation at the end of the school year. The measure passed unanimously with 9 to 0 affirmative.

The next Regular Meeting of the Littlestown School Board will be held on Monday, August 16, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. in the board room at Alloway Creek Elementary School. The public is invited to attend or may address questions to the board through the LASD website.

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Christina Grim grew up in Shippensburg, PA, Franklin County, and graduated from Shippensburg Area High School. She is an experienced interviewer, researcher, and news reporter, having worked for the Shippensburg News-Chronicle as a staff reporter during college. Driven by the desire to know the facts and answers to today’s issues, she takes seriously the importance of providing the best reporting possible. Ms. Grim earned her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Messiah College and has worked in her field, either in print or radio/streamed media for the last 25 years. As a single mother, she has learned that the best things in life come from hard work and multi-tasking. She is the mother of two adult children and two cats

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