Power of Protest: Community Mobilization Compels School Board to Reinstate Mental Health Services

In a heated special meeting of the Ramapo-Indian Hills School Board, the board’s decision from last week not to continue funding their mental health services faced a firestorm of criticism. Ultimately, public mobilization for these services forced the board to reverse course.

The meeting, attended by a larger-than-usual public turnout, which led to an extended public comment period, brought forward passionate voices from the community. Parents, students, and education professionals alike raised concerns about potential breaches of student privacy, voiced objection to the board’s decision to cancel the Thrive mental health program without community approval, and accused the board of prioritizing hardware upgrades over more fundamental needs like mental health.

One of the most powerful voices at the meeting was that of a 15-year-old former participant in Thrive who described the program as “life-saving.” A strong endorsement also came from parents who had seen the positive impact of the program on their children’s academic progress and emotional well-being. One parent shared her daughter’s story, explaining how Thrive enabled her to continue her education despite mental health issues, thus avoiding expensive out-of-district placement. These testimonials highlighted the human cost behind the board’s decisions and the vital role mental health support plays in academic success.

The Superintendent proposed several resolutions related to mental health and special needs programs, emphasizing that rejecting the continuation of the Thrive program could negatively impact students’ mental health, academic progress, and the school’s budget. He further introduced Resolution E8 for staff wellness training and certification through Thrive and Resolution E11 to approve Care Solace, a digital tool to facilitate parental access to mental health services.

Yet, some board members defended their controversial votes against the program, asserting concerns about implementation and clarity. Board member Kim Ansh detailed her concerns over the lack of clarity about what she was voting against. Marianna Emmolo claimed that she was not rejecting mental health resources, but concerned for ‘students’ privacy rights’.

However, the community seemed to resonate with a different perspective. Resident Mae Bogdansky urged the board to put aside personal agendas and consider their role as community representatives. Echoing these sentiments, Amy Eiler emphasized the importance of mental health for scholastic success.

Towards the meeting’s end, the board was criticized for alleged violations of the Open Public Meeting Act, with some attendees accusing members of arranging votes behind the scenes to cater to political interests.

Ultimately, the board passed motions on the consolidated agenda, which included the contentious matter of mental health services.

Tensions were heightened when two board members, Doreen Mariani and Vivian Yudin King, clashed over allegations of personal attacks and discussions of mental health. The meeting ended with the board deciding against additional comments and moving to close the meeting.

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