Chandler Unified Superintendent Frank Narducci said it has taken a while, but the school district finally has a plan in place to help students struggling with mental health issues.
“We’ve been working with, and struggling with, this for the last four years, since the pandemic,” Narducci said during the June 14 Governing Board meeting. “I’m very proud of our district for moving forward this way.”
At the June 14 meeting, the Governing Board approved agreements with The Hope Institute and Lighthouse Wellhealth Clinic to provide mental health services to students.
CUSD officials have faced criticism from students and the community over not doing enough for students’ mental health since May 2022, when three of its students died by suicide in 10 days.
The district plans to roll out its new mental health plan this fall. Here is how it will work:
If a student is struggling with mental health issues, they will be referred, when appropriate, to The Hope Institute as a first step. The goal would be that any student who needs help could get an appointment by the next business day.
The Hope Institute is based in Ohio but wants to branch out nationally. As part of that effort, clinic leaders must show their approach works in different parts of the country. This fall they will start clinics in Georgia and Arizona.
The Arizona clinic will be based in a discrete building at Perry High School. The goal of The Hope Institute is short-term care, getting students past whatever crisis they are dealing with. As such, it can care for students for only about four to six weeks.
Still, some students may need longer-term care. Once the short-term concerns are addressed, The Hope Institute can recommend longer-term care facilities to the parents.
The district has partnered with Lighthouse Wellhealth and Southwest Behavioral Services for longer-term care, but parents could choose another agency.
Parents are involved in every step of the process. The district’s involvement is limited to referrals, which are required under Jake’s Law.
Jake Machovsky was only 15 when he took his life in his Tempe home after battling mental health issues.
His parents, who now live in Gilbert, lobbied for the law that bears their son’s name to ensure Arizona students have access to mental health services. It was passed by the Legislature in 2020.
The law provides funds for families that are uninsured or underinsured and requires insurance companies to cover the cost of treating mental health issues, among other things.
The district is not informed of how treatments are going for the students it refers for help. That information is between the students, their parents and the clinics.
CUSD does need to be involved in the initial referral so that families that cannot afford mental health care can access the funds available through Jake’s Law.
Board member Barb Mozdzen said she recently attended a mental health event.
“One of the questions that I asked them was, ‘do you have openings for students?’ And these are private practice clinicians all in the area.” Mozdzen said. “Every one of them that I talked to did not have any openings.
“I see this as something really, very good for our district and our students.”
The district is not paying any money in the agreements approved but rather is providing space for the clinics to operate. The agreements are for a term of one year and can be renewed annually.
District officials have said they hope to open a second Hope Institute location for the northern half of the city. A final location for that clinic has not been decided, but the new Galveston Elementary School now under construction was suggested as a possible location.
“We came to the board about a year and a half ago, specifically a year ago, and said that we would make a difference in this space and we weren’t just going to hold meetings on it,” Narducci said. “We’re proud to be able to offer these two opportunities to be able to address the mental health issues in our community.”