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Rural School Districts To Spend Some Coronavirus Relief Aid On Telemental Health Services

The Florida Department of Education (DOE) is distributing $2 million in CARES Act funding to increase K-12 students' access to virtual counseling and online psychiatry.

DEO Chancellor Eric Hall says leaders want to make sure there’s no gap in mental health services with more students enrolled in distance learning during the pandemic.

“It helps to give them access to that same level of support and engagement with these professionals using these online platforms, so that there’s no breakdown in service.”

Hall says the department chose counties where 25% or more of the population lacks access to high-speed internet. He says school districts receiving the grants also have a need for more school-based mental health providers.

“We’re helping connect them to the professionals and the interventions that they need regardless of whether they’re in a brick-and-mortar setting or whether they’re choosing to learn in a distance learning model.”

Florida lawmakers allocated $100 million in this year’s budget for mental health services in K-12 schools. Hall says the additional $2 million in CARES Act funding will help supplement that money in rural counties.

“We need to move quickly to again reinforce the great work that’s already happening out there in our districts to support mental health, but double down on this situation for these 18 districts that just need the additional support that the funds are really going to help bring into their local schools."

Hall says each district will get at least $50,000 to pay providers or purchase laptops, tablets, mobile WiFi hotspots or secure video conferencing software. Hall says rural schools will begin receiving the funds by the end of October.

Jackson County Schools will receive a $228,000 grant.

Superintendent Larry Moore says the district plans to use it to hire staff to supervise students using virtual counseling kiosks, which have already been installed in schools.

"Our biggest limitation there has been [un]available staff members to help or oversee the implementation of the use of that equipment," Moore said. "I’m hoping that this funding will be able to help us in that area.”

School districts in the following rural counties will receive a grant to expand access to telemental health services:

  • Bradford
  • Calhoun
  • DeSoto
  • Dixie
  • Glades
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hardee
  • Holmes
  • Jackson
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Levy
  • Liberty
  • Madison
  • Taylor
  • Union
  • Washington

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.