Shrewsbury Schools 'Behind The Curve' In Mental Health

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Shrewbury School Committee Chair Erin Canzano, as seen in this file photo, said too-large classroom sizes affects the way teachers deal with a student's mental health crisis.
Shrewbury School Committee Chair Erin Canzano, as seen in this file photo, said too-large classroom sizes affects the way teachers deal with a student's mental health crisis. Photo Credit: File

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — Shrewsbury schools are “triaging too much” when it comes to helping students in mental health crises, according to Superintendent Joseph Sawyer.

"We are falling way behind the curve,” Sawyer told the school committee Wednesday.

Sawyer said the district's single clinical coordinator position is insufficient to handle the current amount of student mental health emergencies, and that he will be hiring more staff.

This year, the schools have already “made multiple direct referrals to emergency mental health,” said Sawyer. Specifically, he said that the middle schools and kindergarten classrooms have seen a “significant increase in mental issues.”

In keeping with school board policy, Sawyer said he would exercise his right to hire two para-professional mental health positions for the kindergartens, and will look into contracting a service to aid the clinical coordinator.

“We can no longer go without (the positions) at this point in the school year,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer and school committee members said levels of stress in the community, especially at home, have spilled over into the schools.

School Committee Chair Erin Canzano said she heard from the Middle Schools PTO that problems coping with increased behavioral issues are directly related to class sizes. Because classes are so large, teachers are, for the first time, deferring to principals and other administrators when facing a crisis, she said.

“For the first time, we're now seeing stress on administrators,” Canzano said.

Mental health issues cuts across all socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures, said Sawyer, but he noted that mental health crises increase in tough economic times.

“It's a small minority of students” who go through a mental crisis, said Sawyer, but “indirectly, it impacts a lot of students' education.”

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I agree that tough economic times does lead to more stress in the homes and in schools. Since Shrewsbury has a sufficient number of mental health providers in private practice, it is an opportunity to work with Shrewsbury Youth and Family Servies to provide a list of counselors in the area.