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HSE board accepts $5.7M in federal mental health funds

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — The Hamilton Southeastern School Board announced Friday that it will accept a federal grant to bolster the district’s mental health programs and provide students with more access to mental health services.

The $5.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education is part of the Safer Communities Act. It’s the largest competitive grant the school district has ever received.

“We all agree that supporting the mental health needs of our 21,000 students is critical to providing an exceptional educational experience that prepares them for future success,” Board President Dawn Lang said in a statement Friday. “To that end, we want to voice our strong support for acceptance of this five-year grant.”

The school board heard feedback from many parents and students Wednesday night as they weighed whether to accept the grant. They ended the meeting without reaching a decision.

Some board members, including Suzanne Thomas, expressed concerns about funding once the grant’s five-year term expires. Thomas described her stance on the issue in a Facebook post before Wednesday’s meeting.

“I want our students to have the services and attention they need and as a fiscal conservative, I can only speak for myself, and say I am concerned with the large sum of money of this grant, and how it will affect our school district once the five-year term has completed,” Thomas wrote.” The school is not a health center, the purpose is education. The district must leave the medical services to the professionals.”

Lang acknowledged that budget oversight is a key responsibility of the board, saying it must make sure financial commitments made now in acceptance of the grant are affordable in five years’ time.

“After meeting with the administration following Wednesday’s board meeting, we accept their commitment in working with the board to ensure that HSE’s budget is sound, and will adjust
when necessary at the conclusion of this grant,” Lang said.

Brooke Lawson, the mental health and school counseling coordinator at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, urged the district to accept the money, telling News 8: “I care about the kids here and I feel like they’re the ones that lose if we don’t accept this funding.”

Lawson says the grant will focus on providing more school counselors for high schools and social workers for elementary school students.

“As a district, we don’t have the funding to hire these positions right now, so being able to have that extra support is really important to us,” Lawson told News 8’s Camila Fernandez.

The district plans to hire four counselors and three psychologists this year and more social workers in the future.

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