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Calcasieu school system holding mental illness conference

Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:50 PM

By Nichole Osinski / American Press

The Calcasieu Parish school system will hold a free conference to educate the public on students with mental illness.

The two-hour “Educating Students with Mental Illness: Disproportionality is Not an Option” conference will feature several speakers with experience in treating and helping children with mental disabilities.

The conference will be held at 9 a.m. Feb. 5 in the Calcasieu Parish Board Room, 3310 Broad St.

Disproportionality Program Administrator Valla Johnson said this is a time to reach out to the community so parents and educators can recognize signs and symptoms if a child has a mental illness. She said the system wants to help educators bring these students into regular classes with a smooth transition.

“We want to discuss some of the things principals and teachers can do to help students function normally in a school setting,” Johnson said. “We want the school system to recognize these problems and provide services to students in a regular school setting.”

Positive Connections Director Ernest Fruge said there has been an increasing need for services geared toward students with disabilities. Fruge, who is co-coordinating the conference with Johnson, said many children who suffer from a disability go untreated, leaving parents struggling to find help.

He said there have also been cases where children who have a mental illness are wrongly assumed to have a behavioral problem, something that could be fixed with more education on proper diagnosis. He said he hopes that through the conference these issues can be made clear and that children who have not yet been treated will be given the chance to continue their education in a way that fits their needs.

“A lot of parents have gone through numerous things to try to figure out what’s going on with their child,” Fruge said. “It can be difficult for families to face these issues. We want to bring awareness to parents and to know there is hope for children with mental illnesses.”

There will be five speakers to address several issues related to mental illnesses. Along with the signs and symptoms of mental disabilities, attendees will learn about treatment, planning a student’s schooling and available services such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Speakers will also discuss what to do when there is no service provision.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Four million children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school and with peers.”

Registered nurse Sherrie Raymond said that many times children who are diagnosed with a mental illness are homebound or have been in self-contained classrooms. However, she said using programs such as Positive Connections, which provides a transition period for these children, can benefit them educationally and give them a sense of routine.

Raymond said the conference is not only to inform but to provide answers to parents’ and educators’ questions. She said schools have had an increasing need for information on educating students with disabilities and that providing any extra information may help ease frustrations when working with a child diagnosed with a mental illness.

“I’ve noticed parents don’t know where to go or who to turn to and a lot of them are tired and frustrated,” Raymond said. “We want them to know that there’s hope for their children and just because they’re diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean they can’t be educated.”

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