Our View: Time for district to re-sharpen its focus

[Grosse Pointe News] Our View: Time for district to re-sharpen its focus

Brownell Middle School was a befitting place to hold the Jan. 19 Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting, given some audience members’ frequent interruptions, loud claps, cheers and boos. This uninviting behavior, typical of a middle schooler’s lack of self-control, often drowned out fellow community members as they attempted to make public comments regarding the proposed health clinic at Grosse Pointe North High School. On a night that was equal parts business and bedlam, the BoE managed to get through the nearly four-hour-long meeting and voted 4-3 to halt work on the plan. The clinic carried a price tag of nearly $1 million, as reported on page 1A of today’s Grosse Pointe News. But today offers the district a fresh opportunity to develop an alternative that doesn’t involve our sinking fund taking a $1 million hit. We call on the board to partner with students, teachers and staff to assess our district’s collective mental health needs and seek a supportive, financially sound option to help them — without the district hyperbolizing a sudden, urgent want to provide health care access to our entire community. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services team that reviewed Corewell’s grant application for Grosse Pointe plainly said our district did not demonstrate outstanding need for a health clinic. This information came to light thanks to former BoE candidate Will Broman, who obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Grosse Pointe News also reviewed the documents. Grant reviewers stated that our district’s needs included in the application “do not reflect necessity for services other than in a county with high risk disparities.” That means we are in a county (Wayne) that demonstrates need, but our actual school district does not. The MDHHS team also said in its review the application contained “very little evidence or data provided to support need for medical services in immediate area in Wayne Co.” Bottom line: The grant application’s data and MDHHS’s comments make it clear that while a school-based clinic in Grosse Pointe might be beneficial, it isn’t the critical need some are insisting it is. It’s evident our district leadership tried to retrofit our community’s needs in order to use a state-funded grant. It also has become abundantly clear based on community, teacher and student feedback that we must develop ways to increase mental health support for our students. One viable alternative to address our students’ mental health needs may be the state’s E3 program, which provides “on-site comprehensive mental health services from mild to moderate severity of need.” The E3 (Expanding, Enhancing Emotional Health) program was specifically suggested for Grosse Pointe in the MDHHS’s feedback, saying it was a more appropriate fit for GPPSS than a health clinic. The district also could potentially partner with The Family Center of Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods, which offers a variety of mental health-based programming, including suicide prevention, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, mindfulness and meditation and family dynamics. Perhaps there are ways to formalize linking the center’s network of local psychiatrists, therapists and other practitioners with students in need. If sharpening our district’s focus to mental health somehow sounds unempathetic, consider this: By using this grant, we are taking dollars away from a school district in greater demonstrated need than ours. For example, Perry Public Schools in Shiawassee County also applied for the grant but was denied funding, despite having more than the minimum number of points to qualify for it. One of Perry’s biggest demonstrations of need is the district is located 14 miles from the nearest concentration of medical services, like urgent cares, medical offices or hospitals. In addition, Perry has twice as many economically disadvantaged students district-wide than GPPSS. That’s double what we are dealing with here, folks. If our numbers are causing some to shout that the sky is falling in Grosse Pointe, imagine what they are facing in Perry. Can you look yourself in the mirror with this information and say Grosse Pointe’s need is greater than the other school districts that applied? Right-sizing our need for school-based health care, when held up against another district’s far greater need for it, defines empathy. A brick-and-mortar health care facility is not our only option, as some in town would have you believe — it’s just the most expensive one. This project warrants a pause to allow for more time and research to find an effective, financially sound mental health alternative for our students, staff and community, as it did from the very beginning.