The Jefferson Parish school system will receive nearly $3 million over the next five years to help address mental health challenges faced by students and staff, officials have announced.
The money, which is part of a $9 million grant received by the state's Department of Education, will arrive in equal installments of about $550,000 per year beginning later this school year.
The grant came from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The money will be divided among 34 "struggling schools" in Jefferson, St. Bernard Parish and Monroe. These schools were previously identified by the state as having high rates of referrals for out-of-school discipline, and their school systems submitted plans on how they would improve each site.
State surveys have shown that between the sixth and 12th grades, the percentage of students needing mental health treatment goes up each year. By their senior year, nearly a quarter of students need some form of mental health treatment, according to Dr. Janice Petersen, of the Louisiana Department of Health.
“So many children come to school every day with mental health issues caused by things that occur in the home or the community,” said Edna Metcalf, the director of health and social services for Jefferson schools.
The money will be used to help students recognize issues associated with mental health, train faculty and staff in how to recognize mental health issues and connect students with existing agencies that help address mental health needs.
How specifically those programs will work is yet to be determined, said Cade Brumley, the Jefferson Parish school superintendent.
He said one area he hopes to focus on is alternative schools, where students who have been expelled from their regular schools are often sent. Jefferson has two alternative schools that at present enroll about 120 students total.
"We as a society need to be looking at those programs — whether they are best suited for restorative programs for kids so that they can get the help they need and re-enter a traditional school setting," Brumley said.
Jefferson Parish is the state's largest district, with nearly 50,000 students.
The state also will use a portion of the $9 million to create a Louisiana School Mental Health Support Program in partnership with the state's Health Department.