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Franklin Regional: Mental health survey could 'gauge the climate' in school district
Tribune-Review - 10/1/2023
Sep. 30—Franklin Regional might undertake a student mental health survey that is generating debate about how much a school district should get involved with the issue and to what extent parents should be included in those decisions.
School directors recently delved into the issue, with district officials defending a proposed student survey that is being characterized as a mental health screening.
The survey would have to be approved by the district's curriculum committee, which meets Oct. 2.
Director Scott Weinman said the proposed survey would "gauge the climate in FR schools — how the kids are feeling, so that we can focus our resources where children need them."
The survey would be anonymous, and parents and students would have the ability to opt out of it.
Debbie Bucciero of Murrysville, who is running for one of six open school board seats in the November election, said she sometimes feels schools are "becoming mental health clinics."
"When I was in school, there wasn't this focus on feelings," Bucciero said. "That was the parents' job, not the school's. The schools should be focusing on the 'three R's' (reading, writing and arithmetic)."
Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said, a decade ago, he would have agreed with her.
"To me, at that time, mental health was something to be dealt with outside the school environment," Piraino said. "The reality is that has changed."
Piraino cited the Safe2Say program, which allows for a secure and anonymous report of a safety concern within the district.
"Initially, I thought it was ridiculous and would lead to false reports," Piraino said. "I'm sitting here today telling you that Safe2Say and the mental health services we provide here have saved the lives of children. I'm not overblowing that."
District parent Jamie Lingg asked if any elements of the survey conflict with the district's survey policy, which dictates that protected information — which includes "sex behavior or attitudes, attractions, beliefs of the student or student's parent/guardian or family," according to the policy — cannot be requested without obtaining parental consent.
"I believe in the importance of mental health, but I also believe in parents' rights," Lingg said.
School director Mark Kozlosky said students are growing up in a vastly different world than their parents.
"We have a responsibility to allow them to come to school and have it be a place where they're comfortable and can become the best adult they can be," he said. "And if you don't provide those services in the real world, you're doing them a disservice. Not every child gets that at home."
"As someone who sat on this board through covid, there was a lot lost in terms of kids not being in the classroom," he said. "I would absolutely love to focus solely on reading, writing and arithmetic. But we need kids feeling well in order to be successful."
Director Kevin Kurimsky said, while the covid pandemic might not be affecting incoming kindergarten students, its impact on older children still is a significant factor.
"We have to consider the kids who did not have a normal kindergarten or first or second grade, and we have to be able to bridge that gap, be able to pull those kids out and get them the academic help they need."
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer DiFulvio said the survey will be on the Oct. 2 curriculum committee's agenda. It could decide to put it on a 30-day public review period or send it to the full school board with a recommendation.
"I don't think there's a teacher in our district who wouldn't rather be solely focused on academic content and curriculum," Piraino said. "But the demands of today have diversified our focus."
The curriculum committee meeting is at 4:30 p.m. at the district administrative offices, 3170 School Road, Murrysville.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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