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School Board moves to hire mental health professionals

Holmes County Times Advertiser / Washington County News - 6/13/2018

CHIPLEY - Washington County School Board has decided how it will use state funding to soothe a new mental health requirement for school districts.

At a workshop Thursday night, School Board members heard from Director of Students and ESE Services Elizabeth Arnold on Superintendent Joseph Taylor's recommendation to hire two licensed professional counselors - one designated to the Chipley area and the other to Vernon.

The state gave the district $172,000 to create the mental health plan. In the 2017-18 school year, there were 24 incidents that required students to be declared under the Baker Act, Arnold said. A number of those students were at the elementary school level.

"We see that number rising - I know that's a national trend as well; but we feel that this would assist those families meeting those children's needs," Arnold said.

"We're wanting someone who can meet the family's need as well ," Arnold said, noting that the counselors will be active and visible in schools and the community. "It's not just the Baker Act issue."

The counselors would have the authority to Baker Act students. Currently, the school system does not have the authority to Baker Act a student or to transport students to the mental health facility - only the sheriff's office can with guidance from the school staff.

District officials appeared to be excited about the new positions. More discussion is expected at the upcoming board meeting Monday. Taylor is looking to full approval by June 28.

"The state requires that we have to have a mental health plan approved by the School Board prior to Aug. 1," Taylor said.

"The goal, as I would see having a mental health plan, is providing the most services to the most students - actually to the community," he added moments later.

In other business, at a special board meeting held prior to the workshop, the School Board unanimously approved a resolution to have the Half-Cent Sales Tax referendum to be placed on the ballot in August. The sales tax would be used for technology and construction.

In the past, apparently, voters had not approved the referendum.

The school district still has to undergo a performance audit of current financials to be approved by the state to put the referendum on the ballot. The Washington County Board of County Commissioners will have to approve the School Board's move in order for it to move forward to the ballot.