Dear F-M families and staff,
Many of you may have heard about Onondaga County’s plan to boost the mental health supports that are available to students.
We appreciate the county’s efforts to focus on and expand school-based mental health services and look forward to implementing one of the service levels they presented as soon as it’s available.
I’d like to take this opportunity to outline the three service levels that were presented to us, and the reasons why we declined two of them:
Tier 1 funding
The first tier of funding would support what the county calls “student engagement specialists,” and the individuals in those positions would be hired and employed by Coordinated Care Services, Inc. based in Rochester.
Student engagement specialists would provide services that our school counselors, psychologists, social workers and home-school liaisons already do, which is to work with our students that are experiencing social-emotional challenges and teach them to manage their emotions and use expressive language. The district and county are expected to each pay for half of the program’s cost, which is estimated to be a total of $270,000.
We declined this funding as we have 18 qualified staff members whose focus is to work with our students and their families and support them in their academic success, which includes supporting their mental health needs. In fact, our initial home-school liaisons were hired prior to the pandemic in an effort to promote family engagement. The home-school liaisons (similar to the county’s student engagement specialists) are either certified counselors, school psychologists, or social workers and are held to the same rigorous expectations that our community has come to expect. Because they are district employees, they report directly to administrators and interact with the entire pupil services team on a regular basis.
Mental health has long been a priority of the district and our counseling staff as we recognize that if a student is struggling in other areas of their life, they cannot focus in the classroom. We are in the process of hiring two additional home-school liaisons, and while we have budgeted funds for those hires in the 2021-22 budget, the district has communicated that it would gladly accept county funding for those positions should it be offered as a pass-through to the district to pay for those positions, which we believe would replicate the Tier 1 county positions.
To date, the district has not heard whether or not the county will authorize the funding for these Tier 1 services that are already being offered by the school district. Whether the county approves this funding or not, the Tier 1 support will allow other school systems to replicate and offer the services that were already being provided by the Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District prior to the onset of the pandemic.
Tier 2 funding
Tier 2 funding, which the district accepted, would support a liaison from ACCESS – Coordinated Care Services who would be the district’s main contact for a telephone helpline. That person would be responsible for taking referrals to support students and their families when child welfare concerns are present but do not rise to the level of calling the state’s Child Protective Services. The district is not responsible for defraying the costs associated with any portion of this program.
Tier 3 funding
While the idea of establishing a mental health clinic on campus sounds appealing, there are several reasons the district declined this Tier 3 funding from the county. First and foremost, the county proposal simply provides a cap of $30,000 for three full-time clinicians ($10,000 per clinician) to establish and outfit a clinical space(s) in the school setting.
Due to enrollment, space is already an issue within our schools. To host a New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) Licensed Outpatient Mental Health Clinic, we would need to provide dedicated space that would have to meet square-footage and other OMH requirements. Due to confidentiality concerns, such space could not be used for any other school programming when the OMH providers were not on campus. The providers based in the clinic would have a dedicated patient load and their services would not be free for students and their families. Because the initial outlay is for $30,000, the OMH providers would bill the families or their health insurance. Some individuals in our community have incorrectly assumed that the limited county funding would have covered all of the expenses associated with operating a mental health clinic.
It was also unclear how students would be transported to and from the clinic (as it would serve all six school buildings) if the clinic is located in another building other than their school, and whether or not the counseling sessions would conflict with academic time.
This would not be a walk-in clinic for our students and the mental health providers would not be district employees. The district would not be involved in staff selection or hiring, and would not have any supervisory rights over the individuals working within the on-campus clinic. Because the clinic would operate separately from the school district, patient information would be confidential and not shared with the district, which includes school psychologists, counselors, administrators and teachers.
Our current counseling center staff members work with all of our students and their family members at any time. They do not bill insurance for the services they provide. And because our counseling staff members provide an array of services to our students, no one knows exactly why a student is meeting with one of our certified counseling center staff.
If families have any concerns about their child’s mental health, they should reach out to their child’s school building counselor, administrator and/or home-school liaison.
I hope this letter helps to answer any questions that you may have about the county’s funding proposal for school-based mental health programs. If you have any additional comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to me any time using the district’s Let’s Talk communications portal.
Craig J. Tice, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District