Myles issues plea for support of youth behavioral health day treatment school

Scottsbluff High School students head home for the day after school Thursday, Jan. 9. The district is beginning its search for a new high school principal after the resignation of Mike Halley.

A month after ESU 13 officials discussed establishing a new mental health facility in the Panhandle, Rick Myles, Scottsbluff Public Schools Superintendent, mailed a letter urging Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sheri Dawson, director of the Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health about the need for such services in the Panhandle.

Myles made a plea to Ricketts and Dawson citing concern about the severe mental health needs of youth and how the absence of a day treatment school separates families. The Panhandle does not have access to such treatment facilities unless students travel hundreds of miles east or to a neighboring state.

“But, just here in Scottsbluff alone, that’s about 40 or so students of our 3,500 who, at any given time, find themselves in need of a therapeutic day treatment school setting to help them safely overcome their challenges, achieve success in school, and ultimately lead productive, satisfying lives,” Myles wrote in his letter.

Myles asked for a pilot facility to serve as a day treatment school in the Panhandle to provide services to area students and families as well as serve a model for communities across the state.

ESU 13 has applied for grants to open a proposed Panhandle Beginnings Day Treatment Day School Program for students, who specifically have mental health issues and challenges. To fund the program, more than half of the 21 schools in the district have committed monies from their budgets to support their students’ needs. For Scottsbluff Public Schools, that commitment is millions of dollars.

“We are and will continue to take literally millions of dollars (just in SBPS alone) from the primary business of education in order to provide multiple specialized mental health and drug and alcohol counselors, threat and suicide assessment process, self-contained programs, dedicated and highly supervised ‘reset’ and ‘restorative’ settings, behavior teams, added security staff, extensive professional development, and a variety of additional services to meet the needs of students severely impacted by trauma or other debilitating emotional-behavioral challenges and disabilities,” Myles said.

Within his letter, Myles recounts how Dawson conversed with the governor and agreed “to discuss day treatment including a pilot.” While Dawson’s office helped form a virtual team of ESU13, Region 1 and other school district personnel, a lack of action resulted in the demise of the group.

As students continue to carry more weight beyond their textbooks and Chromebooks on their shoulders, districts like Scottsbluff Public Schools are left with limited options, officials say.

Wendy Kemling, Scottsbluff Public Schools (SBPS) director of curriculum and instruction, shared the struggle visiting with parents and grandparents about options hours from home.

“When you’re in with a family having conversations about a need of a child and all of the sudden you’re talking about the nearest place that we can look at is five hours away and the parents or grandparents doesn’t have a vehicle and doesn’t have access to be able to see that child, you’re talking about ripping a child away from their family,” she said. “That is what we face because we don’t have anything here. It’s a horrible conversation to have to have with a family.”

As ESU 13, school districts and community leaders moves forward and educators advocate for services for their students, the need for youth mental health services continues to grow.

“There are a variety of meetings I think some of our community leaders are beginning to generate on their own,” Myles said. “That’s really our goal. We don’t need to lead this as a school district. I think this is something our entire community needs to get behind and just take a look at our youth and the needs of some of kids facing big challenges and what are the results when they don’t get what they need.”

Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at lauren.brant@starherald.com.

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