Schools to revise mental health crisis policy

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — Scotland County Schools’ policy for managing students facing mental health crises at school is undergoing revisions, as the school system’s three clinical mental health counselors outlined for the school board Monday night.

Each counselor is qualified to provide outpatient mental health services and serves students dealing with depression, anxiety, tendencies to harm themselves or others, or traumatic circumstances like abuse and bereavement. Licensed professional counselor Megan Batten serves students at Scotland High, Shaw Academy, and Scotland Early College High, and LPC Emily Smith serves Carver and Spring Hill middle schools. Mindy Hill, a licensed clinical social worker associate, serves the system’s elementary schools.

While schools also have social workers and counselors on staff, most of their time is dedicated to students who exhibit problems that are purely behavioral.

“These kids that we are seeing have seen the school counselor and have seen the school social worker and they need more than what a school counselor and school social worker can give them,” said Hill, who said that she has a 47-student caseload between the system’s seven elementary schools.

The school system’s current process for addressing students with an immediate mental health crisis involves calling in a mobile crisis team through Eastpointe, the mental health managed care organization that serves the region, as well as the student’s parent. In the proposed new process, parents would still be notified but school professionals would conduct a risk assessment based on the student’s previous history in order to ascertain the level of risk.

“We would have comprehensive paperwork on site, similar to what they use when they do assessments — but actually ours is more detailed — and we would actually do that assessment to determine whether we think the risk is low, moderate or high,” said Smith.

In cases where a student is determined to be at a moderate or high level of risk, the crisis team would be called. Low-risk students would have the option of returning to class with parent permission.

Hill said that some mobile crisis calls are made unnecessarily, and many miss several days of school while waiting for a required follow-up consultation with an outpatient mental health care provider.

“We’re proposing this because a lot of mobile crisis calls happen because a child was mad,” said Hill. “We have had children that have been out of school and their absences just keep piling on because they made a statement that they didn’t really mean, where there was no intent of hurting someone or hurting themselves.”

Regardless of the individual student’s level of risk, counselors will develop methods for easing them back into the classroom.

“We don’t want … the student to come back to school and we just go about our business like nothing’s happened,” Smith said. “That’s not what needs to happen. There needs to be a very specific follow-up plan and intervention when that student returns.”

The proposed crisis process will be further considered by school staff before a formal recommendation is made to the board.

Also on Monday, the board learned from Carver Middle School Principal Amber Watkins that the school’s sixth-grade STEM magnet class is in the running for a $20,000 “Solve for Tomorrow” grant from Samsung. The qualification process involves a competition, for which students will complete a project exploring the applications of solar energy.

Scotland County Schools finance officer also briefed the board on a $750 bonus that will be issued to permanent full-time employees. Part-time employees will receive a percentage of $750 based upon the number of hours they work.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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