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HSE board members delay decision on $5.7M in federal mental health funds

LATEST: The Hamilton Southeastern School Board on Wednesday night delayed a decision on accepting a $5.7 federal grant that could help the district acquire additional resources to address students’ mental health.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A multimillion-dollar federal grant to help address the mental health of students faces opposition at Hamilton Southeastern Schools.

Parents have raised concerns about what this could mean for their students.

According to school officials, board members could decide to not accept the funding, but some parents tell News 8 that expanding mental health services is a no-brainer.

The school board meeting was meeting Wednesday night at the school district’s Central Office, 13485 Cumberland Road. About 25 people planned to speak to the board members about the grant. Each person was limited to two minutes of testimony.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, Brooke Lawson, the mental health and school counseling coordinator at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, told 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.”

Lane Skeeters, a parent with two student in Hamilton Southeastern Schools, told News 8, “That would be very frustrating to me and my son and his friends and everybody involved,”

Hamilton Southeastern Schools’ U.S. Department of Education that totals $5.7 million is part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

According to Lawson, the Hamilton County school district has seen a gap between students’ needs and available mental health services. The grant could provide more high school counselors, and social workers at elementary students.

Lawson said, “Our student-to-school-based mental health professional ratio is really high and receiving this grant is going to help us to lower that and give all kids more access to their school counselors.”

School Board Member Suzanne Thomas recently shared her thoughts about the grant on Facebook: “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.”

“The school is not a health center, the purpose is education. The district must leave the medical services to the professionals.”

HSE parent Jacquelyn Thompson disagreed, “But when you’re trying to educate a child who has anxiety or depression or lacking social awareness in certain situations you can’t teach them math, you can’t teach them gym, so to be able to have these push ins and support at the schools for the students can make kids like going to school more.”

Fishers City Council Member Jocelyn Vare said, “COVID affected everyone. I don’t think today we fully understand how much harm it cost us emotionally and physically too especially recovering from the pandemic to have additional mental health support is crucial.”

Another parent, Jill Hutchinson, said, “This grant is for our children, and if the school board decides to vote down the acceptance of this grant, then they are only helping the negative stigma of receiving mental health assistance.”

News 8 reached out to Thomas for comment, but she did not reply before the airing of a story on News 8 at 5 and 6 p.m. Wednesday.

News 8’s Reece Lindquist contributed to this story.