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Burbank school board approves mental health and wellness plan

The Burbank Unified School Board unanimously approved a new three-year mental health and wellness plan that signifies an ambitious effort by Burbank school officials, who were prompted in part to create the plan because of increased reports of student anxiety and depression.

School board member Steve Ferguson, who was an early champion to create the plan, said the effort was six months in the making and took a “heck of a lot of work” and a “heck of a lot discussion.”

During that time, Tom Kissinger, assistant superintendent for Burbank Unified, and Brian O’Rourke, the district’s director of safety and student services, facilitated discussions with school officials, parents and educators about how the plan should be shaped.

"[I’ve] never been more proud to be part of a district and a team that has taken a policy and a vision and worked so openly together,” said Supt. Matt Hill. “That is not an easy process to do, especially for a topic that we don’t talk about that often in our society and especially in school districts. But Burbank is leading the way on having a thoughtful plan. This is one of the best plans I’ve ever seen.”

The plan outlines five overarching goals: reduced barriers for students to receive mental health services; a district wellness center to streamline student referrals; a social/emotional curriculum to promote mental health and wellness; a districtwide culture based on positive social interactions; and ongoing education for staff and families about student wellness.

“The increasing rate of students being referred and hospitalized with psychiatric issues and suicidal attempts (or ideations) further underscores the reality that, as a school district, we need to do more to identify and address these problems,” according to a district report.

There are many other specific goals in the 50-page plan, including opening a wellness center at John Burroughs High School, similar to the one that opened at Burbank High earlier this year.

The Burbank High wellness center allows teens to drop in at any time for a break or to meet in groups during peer discussions or one-on-one with an adult therapist who works with Family Service Agency, which provides counseling to local families, teens and children, and many Burbank students.

The plan also calls for a mental health and wellness coordinator, and the school board is expected to review hiring that employee at a future meeting.

The district will also track trends and data related to student psychiatric hospitalizations or matters tied to suicide.

Officials also plan to survey staff to gauge the overall state of their wellness.

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


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