Did a School Board Member Disregard Mental Health as a Priority, Indian River County, FL.?

School Board Member Jackie Rosario

On May 9, 2022, the Superintendent of the School District of Indian River County District (SDIRC), Dr. David Moore, held a workshop where a C.L.I.M.A.T.E. Task Force (Convening Leaders in Maximizing Access to Education) presented recommendations to the staff of SDIRC to ensure equity and excellence in each of its schools. 

The task force, made up of 15 community leaders, noted below, is overseen by Assistant Superintendent for Student Affairs, Advocacy and Access, Mr. Eric Seymour, with Mr. Johnny Thornton as the Chair and Ms. Stacey Klim as Vice Chair.

The 15 community leaders, consisting of parents, retired teachers, community members who work in the health care field, and attorneys, among others involved in the community, presented recommendations for “Academic Success” and “Communication and Engagement.” 

Ms. Klim spoke on behalf of Communication and Engagement, whose objective was to “To recommend mental wellness strategies for students, staff, and faculty as part of a commitment to building a culture of support.” The 15 Task Force community leaders all recommended that “mental health” was the number one priority for the school district, not only for students, but also for staff members.

Among others, these recommendations included having mental health specialists at every school (currently each specialist serves four to five schools), develop an accurate understanding of why staff leave the district and bringing in mental health experts to offer services to educators.  

By way of background, Ms. Klim indicated that the task force met with Deputy Superintendent Mr. Scott Bass and Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Planning and Support Services Ms. Pamela Dampier.  “We requested a lot of data [from Ms. Dampier] to support our recommendations, as well as statewide and national data to see how we compared.  From all this information we identified needs.”

Following Ms. Klim’s presentation, school board member Dr. Peggy Jones addressed the board, district staff and task force members. “Mental health was a platform for the Florida School Board Association this year…Everyone knows there is an issue.  In the State of Florida, [according to a USF youth student study released last month], suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 – 14-year-olds in Florida.  Mental health for students, parents and teachers is just key.

[According to the Mental Health Foundation, who’s mission to help people understand, protect, and sustain their mental health:

20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year

50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.

10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.]

Following Dr. Jones remarks, school board member Jackie Rosario, while acknowledging the board had not reviewed the task force’s data, questioned how 15 task force members could write recommendations without surveying parents and a student body of 17,400.   “Where did you get this data from parents?  Was an email or survey sent out?  If you only looked at academic data, how do we know there is a mental health issue?” (Emphasis added.). 

She also cautioned that the district makes sure that “we as a district are not out of compliance with CS/CS/HB1557 (2002) Parental Rights in Education,” (which was co-sponsored by Representative Erin Grall and advocated for by a group known as Mom’s For Liberty.) 

State Representative Erin Grall

In response to Ms. Rosario’s need for additional data, Mr. Seymour indicated that the task force “did bring in by department individuals to speak on each and every topic, so the feedback was not only theirs, but from people from within our departments.”

Additionally, when asked if by Ms. Rosario “if anyone reached out to parents?” Mr. Seymour indicated Patricia Kawi, Ph.D., Coordinator of Parent and Community Engagement, “has data that supports the concerns of our parents.  She has been involved in every school and in making as making as many [PTA] meetings as possible.”

School board member Dr. Mara Schiff responded to Ms. Rosario’s comments: “I’m going to profoundly disagree with Mrs. Rosario on a number of topics.  To disregard or minimize the work of this committee completely saddens me.  

To disregard or minimize the fact that mental health is one of the most serious issues, if not the most serious issues facing schools, school districts and school boards today is a disgrace to our students and our work.

The issue that politicizing or bringing in the State Statute – of course we are following Statute – of course we are following law – and to imply differently is an insult to the Board and this District.” (emphasis added)

At the conclusion of the session, Ms. Rosario addressed Dr. Schiff’s concerns: “She said I disregarded the work of the committee. If you rewind [the video] I was very clear that I did not disregard the work of the committee.

C.L.I.M.A.T.E. Task Force Members

Johnny Thornton, a retired educator of 36 years is a lifelong resident of Indian River County. He is experienced in working with children and families in the community through coaching and various organizations. 

Stacey Klim is a teacher and the mother of two children, including a son who was born with a rare brain malformation.  She is an advocate for the families of children with disabilities. 

Valerie Brant-Wilson, a 35-year veteran of the Indian River County School District, she now serves as a Guidance Counselor.  

Jeff Pickering, president and CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation, a $100 million community foundation established in 2008 that serves a coastal resort and agricultural community on Florida’s Treasure Coast. 

Paul Lee Westcott, an attorney in Vero Beach, FL. with 34 years’ experience in Dispute Resolution, Workers’ Compensation, Civil & Human Rights, and Personal Injury.

Godfrey Gibson, President, Gifford High School Alumni and Friends Association, Inc.

Angela Guzenski, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health Association of Indian River County, FL. with extensive knowledge of psychiatry and clinical background. 

Eddie Hudson, owner, Eddie Hudson Electric.

Margaret Ingram, President, The Science Institute of Discovery, Inc. a nonprofit organization that was formed to inspire minority students to become more interested and involved in the field of science. 

Wendy McDaniel, MLS Compliance Director for RE/MAX, LLC.

Peggy Lockwood, parent/grandparent representative.

Jane McNulty Snead, Crisis Stabilization Manager at United Against Poverty Inc.

Michael Swan, Member at Rossway Swan Tierney Barry & Oliver, P.L.  Mr. Swan has been practicing in the guardianship and mental health area since 1985 and has actively served the Florida Bar in substantive capacities at the statewide level in the development of probate and mental health law. 

Freddie Woolfork, Administrator of Development & Marketing at Gifford Youth Activity Center.

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12 thoughts on “Did a School Board Member Disregard Mental Health as a Priority, Indian River County, FL.?

  1. The C.L.I.M.A.T.E. panel was convened for a one-day workshop earlier this month. From that single event, a recommendation for a major extension of resources to deal with student and staff mental health issues was made. Seriously? With all due respect to the members of C.L.I.M.A.T.E., making that recommendation without further involvement of parents, students, and staff seems more than a bit hasty.

    When Board Member Jackie Rosario very reasonably “questioned how 15 task force members could write recommendations without surveying parents and a student body of 17,400″ she did not receive a serious or direct answer — something that should give pause to everyone.

    Rosario further asked, “Where did you get this data from parents? Was an email or survey sent out?”

    These are very reasonable questions that deserve serious answers. None were forthcoming.

    How COULD such a panel not make a serious effort to involve students and parents? It is a very reasonable question that should not be interpreted as intending to impugn the work of the panel, but rather one that seeks an answer to a very important question.

    Given the inappropriate non-response of “School board member Dr. Mara Schiff” it is very clear that a rift exists within the Board between members (such as Schiff) who believe the views of parents need not be consulted when it comes to such key decisions and those (such as Rosario) who believe parental input should regularly be solicited when considering important school-related issues (such as the mental health of students or the nature of books available in school libraries).

    Dr. Schiff’s dismissive responses to Rosario’s concerns fail to address the substance of those concerns, yet they serve to highlight the Board’s continuing indifference to parental involvement by minimizing the lack of outreach to parents and students.

    It is quite apparent that this article was intended to impugn perhaps the most parent-connected member of the Indian River County School Board. With school board elections coming in August, perhaps the article’s real purpose was to damage Rosario’s re-election?

    Socrates once observed: “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” Indeed, that observation characterizes both Schiff’s non-responsive answer and the evident purpose of this article.

    Why was there no serious effort made to solicit broad participation by both parents and students in support of the panel’s work? Having one or more panel members who are parents of students does not satisfy that concern, it merely highlights the lack of broader participation by parents and students.

    Using dubious “probable” statistics from the UK purporting to justify a claim of growing or widespread student mental health issues is entirely irrelevant to the mental health of students in Indian River County. It is unlikely such dubious statistics would be helpful in the UK either.

    Other questions might address: (1) is there a real increase in student mental health issues in the county unrelated to the stress caused by poor COVID-19 policy, and, (2) if so, why?

    Given the stress on students created by the excessive response to the COVID-19 epidemic during (2020-2021), it might well be more helpful for both the Superintendent’s office and School Board to review lessons learned so that a less damaging policy be available for dealing with a future pandemic.

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  2. Additional information on school funding:
    Appropriations Subcommittee on Education
    The total overall appropriations for Education (excluding local funds) is $22.5 Billion. This includes:
    • $22.1 Billion for Public Schools
    • $500 Million for the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation to help districts raise the minimum salaries of classroom teachers
    • $100 Million for the Mental Health Assistance Allocation to support local efforts to address youth mental health issues in schools
    • $189 Million for Gardiner Scholarships
    • FULLY funding Bright Futures
    $32.3 Million for the Dual Enrollment Scholarship Program to reimburse eligible postsecondary institutions for tuition and related costs for dual enrollment courses taken by certain high school students

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  3. Mr. Webster, you are misinformed and replying with misinformation. The task force met every month since October- 8 times for 2 hours each. Additionally, you refer to dubious “probable” statistics from the U.K. but failed to acknowledge Dr. Jones’ reference to how “In the State of Florida, [according to a USF youth student study released last month], suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 – 14-year-olds in Florida.”

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    • Since I was responding to the content of your article, you are the source of the “misinformation” you claim to find in my reply. Your article did not provide any information about multiple panel meetings. But consider that the exclusion of meaningful student and parental participation is even more egregious given there were multiple opportunities (panel meetings) during which such participation was possible.

      The statistics are “probable” because that is how they are identified on the UK chart… using nebulous data amounts to abusing statistics. Furthermore, the most likely cause of the suicides were the lockdowns and suspensions of normal school activities. These foolhardy actions were not necessary and greatly damaged many students. Suspending graduation exercises and normal school attendance was a hasty move unsupported by sufficient evidence to justify the known social development damage that would result.

      To what extent did the panel consider the temporary nature of increased emotional problems brought on by bad COVID policy? Is a long-term solution to a temporary, self-inflicted problem really necessary? Is it a bad thing to raise such questions?

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    • I “failed to acknowledge Dr. Jones’ reference to how ‘In the State of Florida, [according to a USF youth student study released last month], suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 – 14-year-olds in Florida.'” because the data cited are out of context without an indication whether the rate is increasing, decreasing, or not changing. Not being aware of the correct context makes the data irrelevant. A snapshot in time is not helpful for the panel’s purposes.

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  4. And Ms. Mehiel’s point is? Enough is being spent on mental health? That is to take the position of Ms. Rosario, that “Do we know there is a mental health issue” beyond the level of current funding to treat the issue. I thought Ms. Mehiel only commented just from reading the headline, as she has said she has done before.

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    • You are famous for changing “the words” of those you try to smear… so you can misrepresent their clear intent.

      Rosario asked a reasonable question. It was not answered.

      Why do you refuse to acknowledge the truth?

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      • You must be a “Dad” for Liberty. And now after 21 fourth graders were murdered you probably still feel mental health is still not an issue. My nonprofit mentors 58 forth and fifth graders. We are in the classrooms every day and struggle how to explain this to them. Some do not want to go to school. Many need counseling. Why don’t you be a man and take your beef to a school board meeting and speak during public comments rather than hiding behind these posts?

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  5. We must first acknowledge the forces we’re living with at this moment. There’s been a pandemic for more than two years. More than 200,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to Covid-19, a burden disproportionally experienced by young people from racial and ethnic minority groups. Children are already experiencing a mental health crisis of epic proportions. The surgeon general issued an advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis, and leading organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
    CNN.com

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  6. Your attempts to slander people by innuendo tell us more about you than those you wish to slander.

    As Socrates observed, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the user.”

    Your attempt to hide behind the deaths of chidren and teachers in Texas by a crazed, radical, self-identified “leftist” is shameless and demonstrates you cannot debate an issue with either civility or integrity.

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  7. Pingback: Jennifer Pippen: “She Spews Hate.” | Vero Communiqué

  8. Bob Webster we would be honored to have you with Moms for Liberty and shame on you Thomas for attempting to slander in 1.5 years over 95,000 members in 36 states and over 140 chapters nationally of parents, grandparents and community members fighting for parental rights and children. You have such a biased garbage blog to be completely honest with you.

    If it wasn’t for the people you are putting on a Pedestal for mental health we wouldn’t have as bad as mental health issues. The people you praise wanted schools closed, mandatory masking of children, social distancing , mandatory vaccines and more and NOW they are worried about mental health to fit their own personal agendas. Not on our watch! The hateful eight people in this community do not speak for the majority of Indian River County and we will be flipping this board in the Fall.

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