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School board member and parents push GBAPS to use CARES Act funds for mental health services

Posted at 10:40 PM, Jan 26, 2021

GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC26) -- According to one member of the Green Bay Area Public Schools board, there is still no sure timetable for teachers to expect the Covid vaccine.

And while families wait for the green light to return to the classroom, some parents are now questioning how the district has been using the money it's saved up during the pandemic.

"This is like a path to nowhere," said board member Rhonda Sitnikau. "[The district has] Millions of dollars and we can't even use it to support our families, so in that case, what are we interested in doing to support our families?"

In its Monday night board meeting, GBAPS said it has upwards of five million dollars worth of Coronavirus relief funds, which Sitnikau says are eligible to be used on mental health services for students. And while many parents report their kids are struggling, she says the district doesn't know how to solve the problem of a lack of mental counseling services.

"They claim that there's no pathway to deliver this," Sitnikau said. "And that was shocking to hear frankly."

One parent used to work in a past superintendent's advisory committee. She says it's an issue she's been working on for years.

"The previous superintendent had said 'there's nobody [counselors/therapists] to hire... we would love to have more people but there's nobody to hire,'" virtual learning proponent Bethe Lane said. "And I'm like 'but you don't have it posted.' If you don't let people know that you're looking for this job position then people don't know to come here."

But one parent thinks a return to in-person learning would solve mental health struggles.

"Personally, I think the big thing is that they need to go back to school so they can see their friends," Leonardo da Vinci School parent Jann Larson said. "And that would probably solve like 95 percent of this."

And some want CARES Act funding to go towards helping kids scarred by the pandemic.

"I don't understand why the district is holding onto this money," Lane said. "These kids need help now. Yes, they'll need help when they get back to school, but they need help now and we should be using that money for what it was intended for to be providing them with the help."

And even parents who advocate for in-person learning agree, a portion of the saved funds should go towards mental well-being.

"I'd love to see at least some help being sent mentally for them... more therapists," Larson said.

GBAPS plans to bring students back to in-person learning three weeks after teachers can receive first access to the vaccine.

The district says there aren't enough mental health professionals for it to hire around Green Bay.