The mental health conversation begins

A series of town hall meetings are intended to share and solicit information.
Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez leads a panel of school service providers in a town hall meeting on mental health at Middleton High School on Aug. 14, 2018. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez leads a panel of school service providers in a town hall meeting on mental health at Middleton High School on Aug. 14, 2018. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Published August 14

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez wanted to know what people thought about mental health.

She learned a few things Wednesday evening.

Providers want to talk about what they are doing. Parents have questions about the Baker Act process in the schools.

And, here and there, there is fear that children are falling through the cracks.

“Many times we avoid a conversation,” Perez said, kicking off the first in a series of school-based meetings in what she views as a listening tour.

Perez, a clinical social worker, invited school district administrators and elected officials, and they showed up in full force. Superintendent Jeff Eakins addressed the small audience at Middleton High School. State Attorney Andrew Warren and Public Defender Julianne Holt described initiatives they have launched in their offices.

For students and parents who needed help, there were brochures and representatives from DACCO, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Northside Behavioral Health Center and other organizations.

Lisa Acierno, who formed Hailey’s Voice of Hope after her daughter committed suicide, told the group she wants to change attitudes towards students with mental health problems. “I’m trying to get rid of the stigma that all of thee people are terrible,” she said.

District officials touched briefly on the new protocols that have come as a result of state law in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings of 2018.

Pointed questions about the high rate of Baker Act cases in the Hillsborough schools came from Josephine Amato, a mental health counselor and parent activist who is now running for School Board.

A student asked for advice for those who struggle to handle the stress of day-to-day school issues, such as problems with their class schedules.

A distraught parent described being banned from her child’s school after she complained that he was being bullied. Assistant superintendent Tracye Brown took her aside so they could discuss the issue one-on-one.

Perez hopes to hear more, and share information with more people, at the remaining sessions. All are scheduled for 5 to 6 p.m. at these dates and locations:

Tue., Aug. 27, Leto High, 4409 W Sligh Ave., Tampa.

Thur., Aug. 29, Plant High, 2415 S Himes Ave., Tampa.

Wed., Sept. 11, East Bay High School, 7710 Old Big Bend Road, Gibsonton.

Thur., Sept, 12., Armwood High, 12000 E US Highway 92, Seffner.

Mon., Sept., 16,, Wharton High, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Tampa.






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