Ramapo Indian Hills OKs mental health programs

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OAKLAND — The Ramapo Indian Hills Board of Education approved three mental health programs it rejected just a week earlier during a 3-1/2 hour special meeting on Tuesday night.

School board members in favor of the programs petitioned for the special meeting after the July 24 board’s 4-4 vote against three mental health programs recommended by School Superintendent Rui Dionisio.

The rejected ordinances were:

  • E7: To renew a 13-year agreement with Sage Thrive Inc., a branch of its special education program, to provide school-based counseling and related services at a cost of $370,500.
  • E8: New agreement with Sage Thrive Inc. to provide school-based mental-wellness training, coaching and certification to the school district at a cost of $60,000.
  • E11: New agreement with Care Solace Inc. to provide website access to mental health treatment providers for school district staff, students and parents at a cost of $8,433.

The vote on Tuesday night was near-unanimous to approve the three programs, with Vice President Kim Ansh only voting no on a proposed change to Care Solace online mental health services. However, she repeated her July 24 statements for voting no, maintaining the programs constituted “overreach” and that she feared “we’re becoming a psychiatric institution.”

Trustee Helen Koulikourdis was absent during the July 24 meeting, but she attended remotely on Monday as did Nash.

A total of 33 students, parents and health care professionals spoke during two public comment sessions on Tuesday. Most praised the programs and criticized the four members who voted against them: Board President Judith Sullivan, Ansh, and trustees Marianna Emmolo and Doreen Mariani.

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“I cannot imagine that in 2023, at a time when our students locally, at a state level and nationally are struggling with unprecedented rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, we have members of the board who saw fit to vote down a resolution for a program that has successfully been serving the needs of our district for over a decade, leaving our administration less than six weeks to figure out an alternate plan as we just heard that will cost a lot more money,” said Wyckoff parent and psychologist Jen Cole.

The four board members gave varied reasons for their no votes, mostly claiming a lack of understanding of what the programs were about. However, there was no explanation why the programs were on the agenda if there were significant objections, or why the motions were not tabled rather than subjected to a vote.

Former Franklin Lakes grade school trustee Margaret Bennett challenged those claims.

“What Km Ansh told us tonight is that she doesn’t know how to read a resolution, ” Bennett said. “Marianna Emmolo voted for Thrive last year, and Judy Sullivan voted for it for three years. What changed?”

Sullivan said she emailed questions to Dioniso about the programs, primarily concerned that Thrive counselors not be allowed to testify against their students and parents. However, Trustee Aaron Lorenz asked Dionisio if he had received the email from Sullivan, and Dionisio responded that he had received one “only about the Care Solace program.”

A complete video of the meeting is posted on the Ramapo Indian Hills website rih.org/board_of_ed/board_livestream_archives.

The two-high-school district serves students from Franklin Lakes, Oakland and Wyckoff.

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