Schooling options weighed for at-risk youth from group home

nalund@bradenton.comOctober 13, 2010 

BRADENTON — A number of options are being considered by Manatee County School District leaders on how and where to school at-risk youth from a new therapeutic group home that recently opened in Bradenton.

State law requires that the school district provide educational services to the youth.

Parents from Johnson Middle School Monday voiced concern about the students possibly being on that school’s campus, believing they were students from Manatee Palms Youth Services’ 60-bed psychiatric hospital which treats children and adolescents.

But the youth will be living in a group home on 37th Avenue East called Manatee Palms Group Homes, managed by Manatee Palms Youth Services. District staffers are looking at half a dozen options where the students from third to 12th grade would go to school.

The youths include foster care children, special needs children and some from the local community who are having adjustment problems due to mental health problems or because of trauma stemming from their home life, said Manatee Palms Youth Services Chief Executive Officer Jeff Turiczek.

Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said the district is still considering teaching students in a portable building on the campus of Johnson Middle School.

“One (option) may be to educate them at their group home or even at Manatee Palms,” McGonegal said Tuesday.

The children recently moved into the group home, the former Manatee Adolescent Treatment Center closed in the summer of 2009. That center had served at-risk children with substance abuse and mental health issues, but it has no connection with the new group home, said Verdya Bradley, associate director of innovative programs for school district.

Manatee Palms, through a contract with the Department of Children and Families, recently completed $3 million in upgrades to open five separate group homes at the 37th Avenue East location. Eventually, it will provide living facilities for up to 60 children.

Childrens’ stay and treatment are paid for either by the state, Medicaid, parents or Community Based Care, a dependency organization that oversees foster care children, Turiczek said.

Because the new group home is a residential facility, by law the district must provide an educational program to the children, district leaders said.

“We’re treating it as if it were any house in that neighborhood,” Bradley said.

School board member Bob Gause said the board was caught off guard about the new group home Monday when parents showed up to protest because the matter hadn’t been brought before the board. It’s customary for district staffers to investigate matters before bringing them before the board, he said.

“We don’t want people to jump to conclusion about these students,” Gause said. “District staff is currently looking at the situation and finding the most appropriate setting to meet our state mandate that they receive an education.”

Regardless of the location, the classes will run from 3-6 p.m. and the youth would be separated from mainstream students if they are located on a school campus, McGonegal said.

District leaders want Manatee Palms Group Homes to transport the students back and forth.

The district will receive funding for each child from the state Department of Education, just like it does for all the other students it serves, McGonegal said.

Last year, the district got $6,820.35 per student from the state. This year, it expects to receive about the same, said Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance.

Sarasota County schools offers education to some students who live in group homes. They are taught in a separate facility but do share a campus with mainstream students.

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