Bay District Schools requests $2 million for mental health funding after hurricane

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The long-term effects of Hurricane Michael can be unpredictable, but local school leaders fear the storm could have a traumatic impact on students and staff.

That's partly why Bay District Schools officials sent a letter to Commissioner Richard Corcoran with the Florida Department of Education.

Denise Kelley, the Assistant Superintendent for Bay District Schools, said she, Superintendent Bill Husfelt, Coordinator of Appraisal Dawn Capes, and others overseeing school grades and accountability worked on the letter.

In the letter, the school district outlines requests including waiving some graduation requirements and $2 million for a mental health plan.

"As everyone is trying to deal with the storm and our adults are trying to help our students deal with the storm, the stress level and the level of impact that students are experiencing and the adults are experiencing, it's like there's no break for healing," Kelley explained.

The mental health request includes screening for students and staff, intervention training for staff, and a long-term plan for intervention.

Dr. Cynthia Wilson, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Bayside Neurotherapy, can see the devastation and progress right outside of her office window. One of her specializations is trauma.

When looking for symptoms in people who have experienced a traumatic event, she said, "You see people with maybe more irritability, depression, anxiety, depending on the stressors and how they're handling those stressors. You might see disruption in sleep, poor concentration, focus, appetite changes."

She said the effects of trauma depend on the individual and the resources that person has.

Securing mental health resources is one of the driving forces behind the school district's letter.

"I think that the state is starting to realize how long recovery is going to take," Dawn Capes, Coordinator of Appraisal Systems and School Improvement for Bay District Schools, said.

The letter to the Florida DOE requests waivers including waiving state assessment requirements for current seniors and for third-grade promotion.

The district is also asking the state to not calculate the district or school grades, or VAM.

District officials say test scores and school grades create stress for students and teachers.

Capes said, "I think that's going to be important for our schools and our teachers and our administrators because it takes a lot off of the plate of the teacher and the adults in the classrooms because there's a lot riding on school grades."

While there's a push to take care of the buildings in our area, there's also a need to take care of the people inside of those buildings.