LINCOLN–Because of limited resources in the Nebraska Panhandle to detect and treat mental illness in school-aged children, Sen. John Stinner of Gering is calling for a day treatment center in the region where children could get those services close to their families.
To accomplish that, Stinner introduced Legislative Bill 801, which would create a pilot project named Panhandle Beginnings where children from elementary, junior high and high school, could attend a day program and get the help they they aren’t currently able to get in the classroom.
Stinner explained that the idea for the bill started in his district by Educational Service Unit No. 13 (ESU13). The head of ESU13, Jeff West, along with Rick Myles, the Scottsbluff school superintendent, had been meeting and talking about what they saw in their schools.
ESU13 has a broader perspective as it covers 11 school districts in the Panhandle. Both West and Myles agreed that while there was help for students with mental illnesses, it wasn’t as specialized as they needed.
“They’re seeing a lot of behavioral health issues,” Stinner said. “And behavioral issues being defined as a kid [who] will do himself or other people harm. This is at the grade school level, too, not just confined to the older kids.”
Stinner wants to address specialized programs for students.
“The bottom line is kids with all of these mental and behavioral problems really need specialized help,” Stinner said. “The kids that identify with these issues will sit down with our teachers and their parents and help create a program that is just for them and then work at the day center to execute that plan on a daily basis.”
The bill calls for an appropriation of $433,668 per fiscal year, after its initial start-up, to fund Panhandle Beginnings. Stinner said that over a long period of time, it will pay for itself.
“Mainly because the school districts will be sending kids over and paying a fee that’s equitable for what they get,” he said.
The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Stinner.
Linda Hoke, a retired teacher in Scottsbluff, supports the bill and Stinner’s efforts.
“I taught at Morrill Elementary for over 30 years,” Hoke said. “I agree with this bill and I think it’s a great opportunity for students. They need this.”
Hoke retired in 2013, but still substitute teaches in the district.
The legislation will have a hearing before the Education Committee February 12th