Scottsbluff Superintendent writes letter to Governor Ricketts highlighting mental health challenges

The addition of this Day Treatment School would be a hybrid of a school that kids can go to each day to receive intensive counseling services, therapeutic management and help address the issues personally and physiology. (Brian Sherrod, KNEP)
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SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. Scottsbluff Public Schools Superintendent sent a letter to Governor Ricketts and Director of Nebraska Division of Behavior Health, DHHS, asking to pilot a facility to serve as a Day Treatment School.

The letter is as follows;

Dear Governor Ricketts and Ms. Sheri Dawson, Director, Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health DHHS:

This email is a plea, once again, to you both to recognize the void of state-supported intensive services for our youth struggling with severe emotional and behavioral challenges in Western Nebraska. Specifically, we are asking for a pilot facility to serve as a Day Treatment School to provide essential services to these kids and their families living in the Panhandle and to serve as a potential model for communities throughout the State.

Every single one of our students strives to be successful. Every single parent wants what's best for their child. However, in the absence of State support to help meet the needs of those struggling with severe mental health and behavioral issues, everyone will continue to be compromised.

Governor and Ms. Dawson, in my role as Scottsbluff's Superintendent of Schools for nearly a decade, I have communicated with each of you multiple times in the past. I've done so in writing, in person and through participation in a lengthy State DHHS study team process.

In fact, in your letter to me of June 22, 2016, Ms. Dawson, after consulting with the Governor, you wrote that you agreed “to discuss Day treatment including a pilot.” We established a long-distance study team together as coordinated by your office and we had many virtual team meetings that included ESU13, Region 1 and other school districts over the span of about a year. Ultimately, the lack of any action or meaningful response from the State resulted in the natural demise of the group.

Nonetheless, we have remained persistent and have certainly done our due diligence in an attempt to make this happen. In fact, in 2017 Senator Stinner drafted a Day Treatment School bill “to establish a pilot project collaborative therapeutic educational setting” in this area. But it was not allowed to move beyond our testimony to the Appropriations Committee. We have sought support from the local community, as well as small and large foundations, to provide partial funding and will continue to do so. Our ESU13 has initiated a very specific plan in partnership with area schools that is ready to go if we can attain your assistance with funding. All we need is the State of Nebraska to help and, once again, I am calling upon you to step forward and help us do what's right.

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 processes, 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. These challenges can be overcome with more intensive therapeutic services that only can be provided within a Day Treatment or residential setting (neither of which is available within hundreds of miles of here).

This is all driven in large part by a commitment to keep kids safe from themselves and each other due to the significant and too often dangerous behaviors we see in 1-2% of our youth. But, just here in Scottsbluff alone, that's about forty or so students of our 3500 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.

In a variety of venues, community leaders and citizens have expressed grave concerns about the severe mental health needs of our youth. In absence of a Day Treatment School, these students too often end up expelled, isolated, or a chronic distraction and disturbance to otherwise healthy and productive classroom environments. These issues are not unique to Scottsbluff. They are not even unique to Nebraska or western Nebraska. However, what is unique is the total dearth of adequate, state-supported facilities to intervene. Despite all this, the State of Nebraska's leaders have ignored us. How does such a healthy and vibrant state environment - that so values its citizens' quality of life - let this failure of duty continue?

While Nebraska has a gem with Boys Town in Omaha, our families cannot realistically access that facility without tearing kids hundreds of miles away from their support network, friends and families at home. Colorado has nearly forty Day Treatment School facilities that "are approved by (the) Colorado Department of Education to receive school finance funding." However, they are, of course, unavailable to Nebraskans. Almost all of them, as you can see in their admission criteria and/or description, exclusively serve youth with emotional or behavioral issues or those related to trauma in their lives. However, for western Nebraska, we have no options.

I don't pretend to understand the challenges you face in working to meet the needs of all Nebraskans. In no way am I able to provide you advice on how to navigate what I am sure are highly complex and oftentimes uncooperative systems and processes. And, I don't at all doubt the sincerity and passion with which you do your work. Yet, I am also committed to doing all I can in my role to advocate for what I and many others believe is a matter of primary importance for the health, safety, and future well-being of this community.

We would be happy to have the opportunity to discuss our proposal with you in more detail. Exact financial needs and scope of the program are all open to conversation. We are ready to operationalize these plans and help reverse the dangerous spiral too many of our children are experiencing. It’s time.

Once again, I am asking, will it take a violent tragedy for the State to provide funding for a Day Treatment Mental Health School out here? Or, as so many others have done, can Nebraska proactively work to avoid that tragedy, do the right thing, and just get it done now?

Richard A. Myles, Superintendent Scottsbluff Public Schools
Myles states outside of the letter to NBC Nebraska that there is nothing to offer in these rural areas when it comes to combating mental health.

“I’m being partially aggressive so to speak; trying to speak so publicly and making this a public open letter other than closed letter because this is not new,” explained Myles. “On behalf of our school district, we have had board members, we have had community members and our legislature’s quite effectivity advocate for this need here in this area. We have not been successful.”

The addition of this Day Treatment School would be a hybrid of a school that kids can go to each day to receive intensive counseling services, therapeutic management and help address the issues personally and physiology.

Students can go to the behavioral unit at Regional West but services are limited leaving students having to travel to Wyoming or Grand Island.

Myles fears that when a program is put in place, it could be too late.

“Our worry is that it will take a tragedy for this to reach the level of action,” said Myles. “We don’t want to be sitting here after a tragedy occurs and I hope to God it never does but we dont want to be sitting here if it ever occur and be saying to each other what we should of and could have done.”