West Fargo Public Schools Create Behavioral Health and Wellness Department – InForum


WEST FARGO — As the state’s juvenile justice system prepares to refer more cases to school districts and offices of health and human resources, West Fargo Public Schools is creating its own welfare department behavioral and mental skills that will help reach students who are not part of special education but may need additional help.

On Monday, July 25, the board approved the hiring of a Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness to lead staff, including behavior coordinators and three social-emotional learning specialists. The department will allow behavioral health and mental wellbeing issues of students and staff to be addressed by specialists rather than under the umbrella of special education.

“In organizing a rounded department, we would look to not only have leadership that aligns a mission for that department, but also how to meet the needs of the students,” said Rachel Kjonaas, director of special education.

The department will consist of the director, two realigned existing coordinators, a grant-funded administrative assistant currently supporting Medicaid billing, and two behavioral interventionist positions to expand the Intensive Social Skills Support pilot program of kindergarten to 12th grade. There will also be a behavior team, consisting of two behavior specialists, four behavior coaches and five senior behavior technicians.

The Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness will oversee the Behavioral Health and Wellness Department.

Kjonaas said the positions will be used to facilitate learning and focus on behavioral health and wellness.

West Fargo School Board President Patti Stedman said removing behavioral issues from special education will allow the district to reach students who need it most.

“So many of our kids who have behavioral issues aren’t on IPs (individual plans),” Stedman said. “So they’re not the ones getting the help and support they really need. It’ll be good to see the connection.”

Although the new position has not been facilitated due to the change in the justice system, Kjonaas and communications director Heather Leas said the timing could be advantageous as the juvenile justice system will soon reject removals for minor charges that sometimes result from student behavior problems.

Last year, 587 incidents were filed in juvenile court by school districts in North Dakota. These cases included petty theft, assault, terrorism or school threats.

Beginning in August 2023, terrorism and theft cases will likely be referred to school districts or county human resources departments.

“We will really see the impact of not being able to use juvenile court for some of these minor offenses next year,” Leas said.

Human Resources offices will handle cases related to drug and alcohol problems or school truancy.

The new principal position will be funded by ESSER funds, which is federal funding made available to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three specialist positions will be funded by title funds and a grant from the State of North Dakota.

“We think we have the right pieces in place. We already have good practices; we just need to coordinate them,” Kjonaas said.

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