Archive for Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mother tells board WRAP kept her son from killing

Counselor helped autistic teen cope with thoughts of murder, suicide

January 24, 2006


Ordinarily, Paula Kissinger isn't one to call attention to herself or to her 13-year-old son, who's mentally ill.

"My son is autistic, severely autistic," she said.

He's already picked on enough, she said.

But when Kissinger read in Monday's Journal-World that the funding for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's WRAP program was in jeopardy, silence was not an option.

"I spent three hours writing out what I wanted to say," Kissinger said Monday, minutes after sharing her concerns with the Lawrence school board.

"I wanted them to know these are real people we're talking about here - my son is real person," she said.

Kissinger credited Carice Riemann, the WRAP worker at Central Junior High, with saving her son's life.

"If it weren't for her, my son would not be alive today, literally," Kissinger said, noting that last year her son contemplated murder and suicide in response to the bullying he suffers at school. Subsequently, she said, he was hospitalized for six days.

"The lessons my son learned from (Riemann) kept him from carrying out his urges, which would have been fatal," she said.

Kissinger's comments followed a presentation by Bert Nash CEO Dave Johnson, who explained that the federal grants that have funded WRAP since 2001 expire at the end of 2005-06 school year.

WRAP, an acronym for Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, gives each school in the Lawrence school district access to a full- or part-time mental health counselor.

In Kansas, no other school district offers as much access to as many counselors.

Johnson asked board members to set aside $350,000 for WRAP.

Board members praised WRAP's performance but deferred setting aside $350,000 until after the Legislature decides whether - or how - to adjust the formula for calculating state aid.

"We are at the very beginning of the budget process," said board member John Mitchell.

Board members warned Johnson to expect intense competition for whatever funds - if any - become available.

Board member Rich Minder confided that he has a brother who is schizophrenic.

"I can testify on the impact" that having a mentally ill family member "had on my ability to learn," he said.

Minder applauded WRAP for educating the community at-large that mental illness is a "public health issue, not just a school issue." To ignore this lesson, he said, would be a "tragic waste of learning."

Because WRAP workers' approach to services is different at each school, board member Craig Grant said he wanted to hear from the principals on whether some WRAP workers' duties could be combined with those of guidance counselors and nurses.

Deputy superintendent Bruce Passman said plans call for board members having principals' recommendations by March 1.

"We had a meeting on this today," Passman said.

Johnson welcomed the board members' comments. "I heard some strong statements of support," he said. "This is a critical first step for us."

He was caught off-guard by Kissinger's testimony.

"I never met the man," Kissinger said, referring to Johnson. "I did this on my own. Nobody put me up to it - I wasn't going to let anybody stop me either."

Also on Monday, the board voted to extend for five years its authority to raise the district's capital outlay levy to 8 mills. Currently, the district's capital outlay levy is six mills.

A mill is a tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed valuation in property a person owns.

The vote does not mean the district will automatically seek an additional two mills. Instead, it gives the board the option.

"Those decisions won't be made until July or August," said finance director Kathy Johnson.

The capital outlay fund underwrites building repairs, remodeling, additions and equipment -including technology upgrades - and land purchases.


Daniel Speicher 12 years, 4 months ago

I think it would be a truly unfortunate situation if the funds that were allocated for WRAP through the SS/HS grant were to fade. Perhaps finding another grant would be appropriate? I don't know if such a thing is possible.

However, I have seen the impact of these workers on students' lives. It is unfortunate that the schools must have this program. In an ideal world every parent would have enough: a) money and b) common sense to know when their child has a problem to take their kids to mental health professionals on their own. However, especially since it is dealing with children and teens (and, because it is very obvious that not everyone has the know-how to detect problems in children and they DEFINITELY don't all have the money to do something about it), it is every person's responsibility within a community to do all that they can to make sure the children in that community grow up to become well-balanced and responsible adults. It takes a village to raise a child.

--Danny Speicher

momof2 12 years, 4 months ago

I think the issue of bullies needs to be addressed as a whole in the Lawrence School system. This is going on far too much. I know Langston Hughes is doing a anti bully pledge. This needs to be done at all schools and all grades period! We need stricter consequences for kids that bully. I know WRAP deals with much more than kids being bullied and some kids would be lost without this program.

Shardwurm 12 years, 4 months ago

I agree. Bullying is the root of the problem.

Solving it is societal I believe. However, harsh penalties should be meted out including suspension and expeling for repeat offenders.

Perhaps a few lawsuits like the one in Tongie will get the attention of the districts.

Paula Kissinger 12 years, 4 months ago

"Perhaps a few lawsuits like the one in Tongie will get the attention of the districts"

Already tried...the attorney for that case refuses to take another. He said that even though they won the case he put out too much $ himself by allowing the family to defer payment to him until the actual judgment money was paid. He said to take on another such case would require upfront payment by his clients. Everyone is too greedy...few are truly interested in doing what is right or helping out others.

"Bullying is the root of the problem"

That is correct but good luck trying to get the school resource officers or certain administrators to do what they are paid to do. It is much easier to discredit the victims, downplay the criminal actions and admonish the parents for trying to get some justice. Justice, in case you haven't noticed, has evaded many in the court system barely exists in the public schools either.

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