Brevard Schools target state funds for mental health

Brevard Public Schools plans to spend $1.7 million of state money on student mental health services next year, under the guidelines of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The School Board voted unanimously for the plan July 10, and it must now go to the state for approval. If approved, the state will fund the plan as part of a $69 million pledge to help districts establish or expand school-based mental health programs.

The state law, passed in the wake of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., dictates that the bulk of the money be spent on direct mental health services such as diagnosis, intervention and treatment, as well as direct employment of mental health providers. Most of Brevard’s budget – some $929,000 – will be used to hire 16 additional social workers.

“That alone, that is so many more students being reached and helped,” board member Tina Descovich said.

There is also $116,000 in the proposal for four social workers from Lifetime Counseling, which is already contracted with the city to provide services at Cocoa High School, as well as Endeavour, Saturn and Cambridge elementary schools. The 16 new social workers will be assigned to high risk schools as determined by the district.

The rest of the proposal includes four more school psychologists in addition to the 35 already on staff, five instructional assistants to provide administrative help to guidance counselors, plus training and contracted counseling services for emergency crisis response.

BPS had already implemented increased mental health programs before the Parkland shooting, including seven more social workers who were hired last year, increased training for teachers and staff and contracts with several outside social services and youth services agencies.

This is the first time, however, that the district has had a dedicated mental health budget.

Board members lauded district staff’s efforts, but pointed out that the $1.7 million from the state is just a start.

“We need to still talk to our Legislature about adequate funding to do a more in-depth job of mental health services,” Andy Ziegler said.

He and board member Misty Belford both pointed out that the state allocation is still less than what is being spent on school resource officers.

“We’ve said all along that the funding for school resource officers is one part of the response to student safety.  This is a critical part of that as well, in my opinion,” Belford said.

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