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Students in Carmel Clay Schools will likely be able to have therapy appointments in their school sometime this semester. 

A contract between the district and Ascension St. Vincent for mental health services is expected to be on the agenda for the Carmel Clay School Board’s approval at the board’s next meeting on Aug 24.

Contracting with a mental health provider to have services in the schools is one of the initiatives that is funded by Carmel Clay’s school safety referendum. Voters passed the referendum in November and it was the first such referendum in the state.

On Wednesday, student services staff updated the board on referendum initiatives during a workshop session. 

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A look at Carmel High School is like during the coronavirus pandemic in Carmel, Ind., on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

While the search for a provider started before the coronavirus pandemic, Stephanie Whiteside, mental health coordinator for the district, told the board that the pandemic did shape what the district was looking for in a provider, particularly in terms of telehealth options.

She said the ongoing pandemic underscores the need for these services in schools.

“When you talk about a pandemic, it’s a prolonged crisis and that situation can be traumatic for both students and adults,” Whiteside said, adding that it can be especially traumatic for young people who don’t feel a sense of control. Plus, she said, there is no end in sight.

Choosing St. Vincent

Ascension St. Vincent was chosen after two rounds of proposals from providers and interviews, Whiteside said. 

She added that the provider already has a relationship with the district including athletic trainers, school nurses and wellness services for employees.

In their plan for mental health services, St. Vincent said it will have a dedicated team for the program as well as provide services beyond the school such as hospital and outpatient care and telehealth.

In the schools, St. Vincent’s staff will do:

  • Individual, family and group therapy.
  • Skills coaching.
  • Medication management.
  • Crisis management.
  • Mental health education and training for teachers as professional development.
  • Aid with students transitioning from hospital to school.
  • Case conference collaboration.
  • Answer and advise teachers’ questions.

The staff will include a program manager, a supervisor liaison, 13 therapists and 8 skills specialists, who help students with behavior and action outcomes, Whiteside said. These positions will be full time, allowing for appointments to continue during school breaks. Jobs have been posted and interviews have started.

The contract will be funded with referendum funds and associate superintendent Roger McMichael predicted that the annual cost will be $665,000. But that’s an estimate because providers still need to be hired and there are other costs involved, he said.

McMichael stressed that this service isn’t free to all students, and Medicare, Medicaid or insurance will be billed first when appropriate.

Accessing mental health services

Whiteside said she working with school principals and staff to clearly define each of their roles and how to make a referral. 

She said that generally there are two ways a student could be referred. First, if a school staffer feels the student would benefit from these mental health services, the district would reach out to their parents/guardians and offer. Second, parents/guardians can make a referral to the school.

“This is really about breaking down the barriers to access for mental health services,” said Superintendent Michael Beresford, and he added that having the services in schools removes the need for families to transport their children to appointments.

“It is still a choice for parents, they may get the referral and say, ‘No, thank you, I don’t want to go to the in-school therapist,'” he said. “And that’s totally appropriate.”

While the hope is to get started as soon as providers are hired and have appointments start this semester, Whiteside said it is still too soon to tell how many students will use the services.

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And she stressed that the services will stay confidential. Anything that’s shared will only be done with the permission of students and their parents/guardians, she said.

“It’s on a need-to-know basis,” she said.

She added that teachers and other school staff don’t need to know what the trauma was to help a student who was traumatized succeed in the classroom.

And Beresford added that another advantage of having this service in schools is that parents, teachers, school counselors, and therapists can collaborate in cases where permission is given.

Adding school resource officers

In addition to identifying a mental health provider, the district has hired four school resource officers, another piece of the referendum plans.

The district had seven school resource officers and worked with the Carmel Police to hire four more over the summer for a total of 11, said David Woodward, the district’s director of student services and Carmel Police Sgt. D.J. Schoeff, who leads the SRO program.

Those officers are based at Carmel High School, Prairie Trace Elementary, Orchard Park Elementary and Towne Meadow Elementary schools.

The district and CPD plan to do more interviews in early 2021 and the goal is to have officers in each one of the district’s 15 schools.

The third piece of the plan for referendum funds was to increase pay for roughly 20 social workers who were already employed by the district. In January, the district increased pay for those staffers by an average salary increase between $2,000 and $7,000.

Call IndyStar education reporter MJ Slaby at 317-447-1586 or email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @mjslaby.

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