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Counseling Changes For CRCSD

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS 2/FOX 28) -- Some big changes are coming to how Cedar Rapids schools deals with the mental health of their students. School board members on Monday voted to overhaul a system that has been in place for more than a decade.

For the past 15 years, the district has had an agreement with the Abbe Center. The center provided in school therapy for students. However,  that money for that program has dried up, and it's forcing the district to shuffle their services.

When it comes to mental health services, educators say one thing is for certain.

"There is a huge need here," says school board member John Laverty.

And while those needs are endless, funding for those services isn't.

"It's not the best solution, but we're making due with what we can," board member Gary Anhalt says.

Before the change, every school in the district had access to a counselor with the Abbe Center for a few hours a week. That specialist would be able to provide onsite therapy - but not anymore.

"We'll be moving from those direct therapy services to consultation and education services," says Rhoda Shepherd, Director of Student Services at CRCSD.

Under the plan, 7 schools have been singled out - Johnson, McKinley, Metro, Washington, Hoover, Wilson and Jefferson. Each of those schools will have one designated part time specialist.

The district says those schools were singled out after looking at behavior referrals, the number of students that have contact with the Department of Human Services, the number of students at risk for dropping out, and other factors.

"This is going to provide 20 hours of concentrated, targeted services per week," says Paul Hayes, CRCSD Learning Supports Facilitator.

The remaining schools in the district will share one mental health specialist, who will work 7 hours a week. The Abbe Center says the changes may actually work out better for students.

"Hopefully, more children will access services by going through a consultation-assessment system," says Cindy Kaestner, the executive director of the Abbe Center.

Kaetsner also says it will reduce the amount of time students are away from class. 

At Monday's school board meeting, several members expressed some concerns with the change - including the other 24 schools sharing one counselor.

They were also concerns over those in-school consultations, which come with the possibility that students who receive referrals to go outside the school for services may have to pay out of pocket if they don't have insurance.

"We are going to be working with other community partners as well to help find access for families," Shepherd says.

This new system is being funded by the United Way and the Department of Human Services. It's a three year renewable grant - so the board will decide if they want to continue this model in 2017.
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