‘This is a place of comfort’ - School officials deride defunding of mental health services in schools

Schools in New Jersey could soon be losing funding to help students who may be in crisis or dealing with mental health issues. The School-Based Youth Services program will be taken away under Gov. Phil Murphy’s new state budget.
Some educators say that removing this service from schools is a mistake. Experts tell News 12 New Jersey that taking away professionals who can help children in crisis would be a dangerous mistake.
“For a lot of our students, this is a place of comfort, of consistency, of stability,” says Keansburg High School Principal Jennifer Vecchiarelli.
Vecchiarelli says students across the state are dealing with mental illness, depression, thoughts of suicide and teen pregnancy. She says that the support they have in Keansburg High School may be the reason some of the students even come to school.
But now that support may be going away.
“There were going to be no more funds cut from education and defunding an integral piece of our community is defunding education,” she says.
Keansburg would lose out on $263,000 dollars in funding, plus four employees that provide the program.
The latest state budget from the governor does not include the $12 million in funding for School-Based Youth Services. This could be a problem, according to program coordinator Jackie Puglisi.
“A lot of our students face depression and anxiety. So, we are that one-to-one adult these kids go to,” she says.
The program served 218 students at Keansburg High School in 2019 with one-on-on counseling – 37,000 students statewide.
The state plans to push the funding to the Department of Children and Families. It would be that department’s job to help students. All services would be outside of the schools.
Puglisi stands to lose her job in September if the funding isn't restored. But she says that this is not why she's fighting for it.
“Just seeing them get out of Keansburg and make it to college and make it to a career that's worth it - to me not my job, I'm not worried about that,” she says.
But Vecchiarelli says that she is worried.
“Social emotional mental health and educating students, they go hand in hand,” she says.