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Citrus County’s school district and its community mental health provider OK'd an agreement to put therapists onto campuses starting early next year.

County school board members voted 5-0 at their Tuesday afternoon meeting to approve a yearlong contract with LifeStream Behavioral Center for between six and 10 counselors to be divided among schools.

These mental health therapists with LifeStream’s Children’s Clinical On-Site Services treat referred students for behavioral and emotional distresses, and can direct students to other services if needed.

LifeStream logo

LifeStream accepts Medicaid and private insurance, but offers payment plans for uninsured families, said Amanda Cypret, LifeStream’s children’s outpatient director.

Each full-time LifeStream counselor costs the school district $25,000, the contract states.

Roughly $150,000 of the district’s tab will come from Project SHINE. Project SHINE (Student Hope in New Endeavors) is a $920,000 funding initiative the school district requested and was awarded from state lawmakers at the last legislative session. 

Additional money for the therapists will come from the district’s mental health allocation from the state. 

Sandy Counts, school board chairwoman, noted the contract didn’t include Lecanto Middle School and the Academy of Environmental Sciences charter school.

“We’re missing some of our schools,” she said.

School board attorney Wes Bradshaw said board members can still approve the agreement, and he’ll add the missing schools in an addendum to bring back January.

Board member Doug Dodd questioned why Lecanto primary and high schools were on the list when they are being serviced by The Centers under an approved contract with the district.

LifeStream replaced The Centers last year in providing Citrus County residents with mental health and addiction services. Since then, the school district and LifeStream have been negotiating their contract.

Cypret said some Lecanto students had been referred to LifeStream’s off-site clinics, and LifeStream didn’t want to discontinue treatments at their schools.

Cypret and Kit Humbaugh, director of district student services, said LifeStream is still hiring therapists, of which three might start in January. 

More will start covering additional schools next year as they’re hired, but there’s little supply of interested and qualified candidates, Cypret and Humbaugh said.

“It is a manpower issue,” Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel told board members. “If they can fill them, they’ll fill them.”

School district Chief Academic Officer Dr. Scott Hebert said elementary schools are the priority because Project SHINE monies are restricted to that grade.

Approved policy allows students to use medical marijuana on school grounds

Without discussion from either its members or the public, the school board voted 5-0 for a new district policy allowing qualified students to use their medical marijuana prescriptions at school.

School officials hashed out the policy during their Oct. 22 workshop.

Eligible students in Pre-K through 12th grade, and students with disabilities between the ages 18 and 21, must show proof they’re registered marijuana patients under the state.

Per the policy, caregivers, who also must be registered, are allowed to bring a non-smokeable form of the marijuana prescription to a designated area of campus for the student to take.

School nurses or staff can’t give or administer medical marijuana to students, and caregivers must take the prescription with them once they leave.

Bradshaw said there’s a pending bill that, if approved, would allow school staff to administer medical marijuana to students. However, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, nurses fear their licenses would be voided if they did so, Bradshaw said.

If the new policy jeopardizes the district’s federal funding, it will be suspended.

Board approves new EMT training program at Crystal River High School

A unanimous school board vote OK’d the College of Central Florida to start an EMT training program in January at Crystal River High School.

After completing the 300-hour course, which includes 84 hours of clinicals, students can gradate high school as a certified emergency medical technician.

Under its contract with CF, the school district pays for the college’s program based on its class size, and could incur costs between $8,400 and $13,600.

In November, The Phil Royal Legacy donated $3,000 to go toward scholarships for the program, which will be named after the late Phil Royal, who was an EMT.

The school board also:

* Approved a $123,769 purchase from Fortinet to provide firewall, antivirus software and online network protections for the district. Fortinet will replace three different providers, whose services would cost the district a total $311,000 for their respective renewals.

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.