Come September South Fork students will have access to increased mental health services, with the hiring of a full-time social worker and an as-needed child and adolescent psychiatrist.
State and local legislators, school administrators, and community members formed a united front to fund the initiative. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle jointly secured $150,000 in state funds, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman secured an additional $17,500 from the county. The East Hampton School District contributed $5,000 for the coming school year.
“It’s a testament to local politics working,” said Adam Fine, the principal of East Hampton High School, this week. “We can’t be more thankful. It’s long overdue and very badly needed.”
With constant psychiatric referrals and two students recently hospitalized, in addition to the suicide last month of a recent high school graduate, Tyler Valcich, Mr. Fine underscored the need for increased access to local services. Stony Brook University Hospital currently houses the nearest psychiatric facility.
“Everyone is coming together to try and make a difference,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “Next year is another story. I hope to get a larger allocation. For now, that’s what’s available, and we wanted to get things started.”
Larry Weiss, the senior vice president for programs at the Family Service League, which has a clinic in East Hampton, will oversee the hiring of the two practitioners. The social worker will split his or her time between the various schools from Montauk to Hampton Bays, and will also see patients in the clinic.
The hope is that the social worker will be a point person to assess crisis situations. Currently, school administrators shoulder the burden themselves. The part-time child and adolescent psychiatrist would conduct consultations, whether in person or using electronic media.
The question remains as to where the money will come from in the future and how the first stage might be expanded. The original plan, the first of a three-pronged project, proposed the hiring of a full-time child psychiatrist and two full-time social workers at an estimated cost of $320,000.
The second phase would hire additional social workers and community health workers, and would include a mobile unit that could go wherever needed. The third and final phase would bring Stony Brook psychiatrists to Southampton Hospital as part of an expanded residency program.
In other news, East Hampton School Board members, at their last meeting of the school year on Tuesday night, approved medical leaves for Karen Powers, Devon Grisham, Margaret Hatch, and Christine Roberts. Alison Fritzen will take a leave without pay for child-rearing purposes from early September until mid-February 2015.
The board also approved teachingand administrative positions for the district’s summer school. Classes begin July 7.
Jackie Lowey, a board member, later urged that schools maintain higher academic standards during the last month of school. “We can do a lot more with this last month of school than we’re doing,” she said, adding that the emphasis should be on making class time “more meaningful and relevant.”
Board members also discussed the lunch policy and the increasing costs of fresh fruits and vegetables.