During a meeting Tuesday, the school board voted 4-1 to allow a separate building on Bolivia Elementary’s campus to be assessed by a mental health provider as an appropriate location for a day treatment center. Charlie Miller cast the dissenting vote.
The site assessment will determine if the facility meets state requirements for the program. Identifying a potential site is only a step in the development of a memorandum of agreement with a mental health provider.
While they did make a decision to move forward on the much-debated initiative, board members also directed staff to continue a search for another location.
Discussion of the day treatment program–which will pair educators with psychologists within the classroom–began in earnest last month when staff presented a proposal to locate it in a wing of Bolivia Elementary School.
But after hearing concerns from parents of students at Bolivia, board members decided they wanted to hear other options for the facility.
Although they previously presented four possible options for a location, Superintendent Les Tubb said Tuesday that, really, there were only two–the isolated building on Bolivia Elementary and a wing at Brunswick County Academy, the district’s alternative and middle and high school.
“We looked throughout the county…There are no other facilities that we have been able to find that are appropriate or even available for us to use at the moment,” Tubb noted.
The original plan to make minor renovations to a portion of Bolivia Elementary would cost approximately $24,000–the most cost-effective site–but it would mean identified students would be in close quarters with traditional students.
The separate building at Bolivia will cost nearly $48,500 in additional classroom and bathroom construction, and renovations, including building a separate entrance for the elementary students, at Brunswick County Academy would total $112,000.
The day treatment program would serve 24 students districtwide, six in each classroom.
Assistant superintendent Dr. Deanne Meadows previously said the district could lease modular units and place them at Town Creek Elementary, but the cost to do so would total $345,000 over two years. Tubb said district staff had since been notified that the state would not approve modular units.
“In my opinion…the [isolated wing] at Bolivia is the appropriate one. That’s a separate building, where students would be by themselves and away from everybody else,” Tubb said. “None of these are the best. We’re taking the best that we can. The best would be to have a separate building close by one of our existing elementary schools…but we don’t have that.”
Echoing Meadows’ earlier concerns, Tubb said locating the program at Brunswick County Academy could open the door to legal challenges of civil rights violations.
But board member John Thompson questioned whether the day treatment program was even needed.
“It sounds like our philosophy on this is somewhat like ‘Field of Dreams,’ where you build it, and they will come. We don’t have a high level of confidence…that we can populate it, if it’s all being done by choice,” he said.
“I believe we can,” Meadows countered.
She said school behavioral specialists have already identified 30 children who could benefit from the program.
And the concept arose out of feedback from county educators and administrators, who noted an increase in recent years in aggressive behaviors and mental health problems in the classroom. The district’s own spike in workman’s compensation claims in recent years supports that feedback.
If the interest is indeed there, Thompson continued, then the board needed to find a location with expansion potential.
“We would never build a school based on current need. But right now we’re talking about converting a building based on current need and not future need…It’s not a permanent solution; it’s an immediate solution,” Thompson argued.
Whatever comes of the program in the future, member Bud Thorsen said the board needed to stop “kicking the can down the road” and move forward with the plan before it’s too late to implement it this school year.
The board’s decision does not mean the district is locked into the Bolivia campus if another viable location presents itself, and it is not an official vote to approve the day treatment program.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.