Newtown teachers want continued mental health funding

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2014 6:45 PM
Newtown teachers want continued mental health funding

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers told top union leaders on Tuesday they are worried what will happen once various pots of funding for mental health services run out in 2016.

Connecticut and national leaders of the American Federation of Teachers met privately Tuesday with about a half dozen teachers who worked at the Newtown school, the scene of the deadly Dec. 14, 2012, shooting rampage that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead.

The teachers told union officials they believe additional funding will be needed for years to come to provide mental health services, given the traumatic nature of the mass shooting.

"Things are hugely different today than what obviously happened two years ago," said Randi Weingarten, the AFT's national president. "But at the end of the day, we need to make sure that students, their families and teachers have the supports they need on a long-term basis to ensure that they can lead productive lives."

Weingarten pledged that the teachers union is committed to lobbying for continued federal mental health funding to help teachers, students and their families. The federal Department of Education has already awarded Newtown with about $6.4 million to help support the recovery effort. About $3.1 million of the funding is dedicated to providing services to students and staff directly impacted by the shooting, such as trauma- and grief-focused counseling services. The grant expires June 30, 2016.

Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski said the grants help pay for services, both in and out of school, that regular health insurance doesn't cover.

"It's those services that are being provided not only to themselves, but they were equally concerned about the services that were being provided to the members of the community as a whole because not only is it for them, but it's also for the children, for the families of the children," he said.

"If that were to be taken away, even if it may not directly affect them, it could affect the students that they're going to be having in their classrooms, the families of the students they're going to be having in their classrooms," he said.

Besides securing additional funding, Weingarten said the union also plans to revisit proposed Connecticut legislation requiring workers compensation coverage for mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress. Similar legislation, which has also been touted by the Newtown police union, died in recent years.

In announcing the latest federal grant in September, the Education Department said an assessment by the district shows a belief that school is unsafe "still pervades the community." Severe post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and grief continue to affect students' performances in and out of the classroom, the agency said.

Newtown education officials have said half the students who were at Sandy Hook the day of the shootings have moved on to middle school, which now requires attention for possible counseling and other services.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, Weingarten was to present a collage as a tribute to the six educators slain in the massacre. She toured the temporary Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier and credited the surviving Newtown teachers with trying to make life as normal as possible for their students.

"If you walk into that school and you didn't know what happened, you would never know what happened," she said. "That's how remarkable that school is."