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Continued: Mentally troubled students overwhelm schools

  • Article by: JEFFREY MEITRODT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 21, 2013 - 7:26 AM

“It comes back to funding,” Keenan said. “If the schools have to absorb the costs, it becomes too difficult to sustain it.”

Anne Klein, whose daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, said public schools don’t do enough to address children’s mental health. One school worker was openly skeptical about her daughter’s condition, remarking in an e-mail: “Do you ever get the feeling that this whole mental health issue is a bunch of baloney???”

“It was just so wrong,” said Klein, whose family paid to send the girl to Lifespan for nine months after the school district refused to cover the bills. Klein said Lifespan “saved her [daughter’s] life.”


Threats at school

After a year at St. Joe’s, Gianni started seventh grade in a new school.

He was transferred to District 916, which takes children whose behaviors are too extreme for regular schools. In its evaluation, the district found Gianni was highly maladjusted and was likely to have conduct problems. He was assigned a full-time aide and was to meet with a school psychologist three times a week in 50-minute counseling sessions.

Gianni’s first year at the school was rough. Every day, he threatened to hurt and even kill other students, even though most of his anger was directed at himself, kicking furniture or hitting a wall. In his first five months, he was locked in the seclusion room three times and physically restrained once, school records show.

In a December 2010 e-mail to Gianni’s Anoka County social worker, Shameka pleaded for advice, saying her son “may not be ready for school and that perhaps a more psychiatric setup would be more appropriate for him.”

The social worker questioned the need for an out-of-home placement, suggesting that “maybe there have been too many changes within the last few months.” Instead, the county arranged for more therapeutic services. In July, the social worker noted in her log that the sessions were not going well because Gianni “is fighting it.”

The school district’s response to Gianni’s escalating behavior was to reduce his mental health services. In his second year, he received just 45 minutes of in-school therapy a week from a social worker, school records show. County and school officials declined to comment on Gianni’s care.

Gianni’s behavior grew worse. In December 2011, school workers started searching Gianni daily because he was bringing things to class that could injure others, including a broken CD.

He was suspended the next month after he tried to hit another student with a heavy book and threatened to “blow your frickin’ head off,” school records show.

The school called local police, who charged Gianni with making “terroristic threats” and placed him in juvenile detention overnight. The charges were later dismissed when Gianni was found mentally incompetent.

District 916 officials recommended that he be removed from school and enrolled in a day-treatment program, according to the social worker’s log. The move would have given Gianni three hours of therapy a day.

The county rejected the plan, “due to his aggression,” the social worker wrote.

For the rest of that school year, Gianni attended just a half day of school in his own classroom with his own teacher, isolated from other students because of “his escalating behaviors and concerns regarding his mental health,” school records show. He went home each day at 11:30 a.m.

Without commenting specifically on Gianni’s case, Superintendent Hayes noted that her district and two others that specialize in high-needs children routinely wind up with students who have been kicked out of residential treatment or day treatment for aggressive behavior.

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  • Gianni, who has a history of psychosis, often slips into a fantasy world, talking to himself and battling imaginary enemies.

  • Three weeks after Gianni set the fire at school, Shameka told her mother that he would have to stay in juvenile detention until a judge determined whether he was mentally competent to face arson charges.

  • While incarcerated, Gianni wrote this letter to a county prosecutor, saying “i’m a really good kid” who sometimes does things that are “extreamly wrong.” He asked to go home with his mother because “I am always safe at home.”

  • Gianni’s relatives welcomed him home May 23 after he spent 37 days in juvenile detention.

  • More than three weeks after his 15th birthday, Gianni was finally able to have fun with a family party at Water Park of America.

  • Gianni retreated to his bedroom to escape the noisy party held the night he was released from jail.

  • Alone in his back yard, Gianni battled imaginary foes while relatives inside the house celebrated his homecoming.

  • After a judge kept Gianni in jail, Shameka Griffin arrived home about the time her son usually got off the school van.

  • Shameka walked with Gianni into the Anoka County courthouse for a hearing on her son’s mental competence.

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