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April 29, 2013

Troubled students in schools raise concerns

PEABODY — Dealing with the problems of students can be a matter of life and death, according to one member of the Peabody School Committee. Yet, in treating kids suffering emotionally or mentally, school personnel are often working in the dark.

According to the School Department’s nurse leader, Linnea Whalen, privacy concerns are contributing to a situation where students return from treatment for emotional or mental problems with no one at the school informed.

That can have real consequences.

“Especially at the high school level, there are a lot of suicidal students,” Whalen told the School Committee at a recent meeting.

Sometimes, school officials are informed after kids return from treatment, and they can work with the youngsters. On other occasions, they are given no guidance regarding troubled students.

“What if the student’s parents do not sign off?” asked School Committee member Thomas Rossignoll.

“There really is nothing we can do,” Whalen said. “If it is a behavioral or mental health issue, a lot of parents do not want to reveal that.” Whalen described a long-term situation that “has weighed heavily on my heart.”

Pressed to describe what she’s seen in school, she described a violent clash involving a student who had returned after an absence. “Something was said, and it triggered something. And the student started beating on the kid in front of him.”

Some students make it clear they don’t want to stay in class, she added. “And sometimes they present in the nurse’s office in a very strong manner.”

“It’s a matter of life and death,” commented board member Dave McGeney.

“The high school is where we see some of these problems the most,” Whalen said.

Higgins Middle School also deals with difficult cases, she said. Occasionally, students with such problems have even appeared in the elementary grades.

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