Jersey City Public Schools Urgently Need Counselors for Our Kids

Update: the BOE did not speak in public to the issue of mental health counselors at the Nov 29th BOE meeting but they did take up an issue around teacher pay which you can read about here. The post below summarizes an issue that is ongoing and merits public attention and advocacy.

There is a special Board of Education meeting tonight (Monday Nov 29th 2021) and mental health services for Jersey City school children may be discussed. Those interested in this topic – the mental health and well being of our school children – may want to tune in because in the first half of this school year the district approved, then effectively terminated, a contract for counseling services with a company called Reimagined Mind.  No backup plan was discussed as to who would fill the counseling void.

So we are now nearly 3 full months into the school year but it’s not clear what counseling services from licensed professionals, if any, are being provided for students throughout the district.

I’m writing this post to bring awareness to the issue and encourage anyone interested in this topic to tune in tonight.

The Need for Services

The Board of Education explicitly laid out the need for counseling services on August 26th, as part of its RFP (request for proposal) report for counseling services:

“The COVID epidemic has caused many social/emotional issues for our students, staff, and parents. We the District are in need of mental health professionals to come into our schools daily to work with restoring the mental and emotional well-being of all.”  – RPF Contract Award Report, Aug 26, 2021

The federal government has also acknowledged, more broadly, that these services are critical for kids, allowing federal ARP aid to be used to fund the need. The district has done just that, using federal ARP monies to pay for the Reimagined Mind contract. You can see that detail below from the district’s COVID-19 Spending Tracking Log:

A counseling services contract with Reimagined Mind was included in the district’s federal ARP aid / spending report.

Why was the contract terminated and what’s the backup plan?

I think part of tuning in tonight is to get more information because it’s been woefully hard to understand as a parent/caregiver what has happened and why.  What is clear based on public record is that the board approved, and then subsequently terminated, the contract for counseling services within four months. Specifically:

  • August 26, 2021 – the Board of Education approved a contract for Reimagined Mind, a private service with its own staffed counselors. See below for more context on the contract details including details around its approval.
  • November 18, 2021 – The Board of Education voted to terminate the contract (effective December 17, 2021) with the following language: “BE IT RESOLVED, the Jersey City Board of Education upon the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, and the School Business Administrator, hereby terminates its contract with Reimagined Mind Counseling and Consultation effective December 17, 2021. Originator:  Robert J. Pruchnik, General Counsel.”  

Background on the issue. 

Below and at the link are a notice of the August 26th Board Docs agenda item approving the contract for $2.9 million.

The RFP (request for proposal) report lists Reimagined Mind as receiving the highest score (219) among three vendors, based on “Technical Criteria” and “Management Criteria.” See the full 2-page report here.

Looking at the Reimagined Mind website, there are three program directors and 26 counselors on staff listed by school in Jersey City; you can see those positions (with pictures of the counselors by school) here but for ease of reference here are the schools:

    • PS #22, PS #25, PS #26
    • PS #17
    • PS #3, PS #6, PS #12
    • PS #5
    • Ferris High School
    • PS #40 (i.e. MS #40), #41
    • PS #27
    • Liberty High School
    • PS #16, PS #20, PS #29
    • Snyder High School
    • PS #4 (i.e. MS #4)
    • PS #11
    • PS #28
    • PS #37
    • Dickinson High School
    • PS #38
    • PS #24
    • Infinity Institute
    • MS #7
    • Academy 1, PS #34
    • PS #15

It’s not clear to me if the counselors are in the schools or not, given the vote to terminate the contract on Nov 18th. Again, hopefully tonight we can learn more.

Action Steps

If you care about mental health and well-being for our public school kids, you can tune in tonight and also ask questions on the record (click here to sign up for public comment). I think it’s unfortunate that we don’t know more about this, which is why I’m writing this and also sharing questions that I’ve gathered from other concerned parents and caregivers, some of whom are licensed social workers:

  1. Why was the contract terminated, and why only four months after being approved?
  2. Aside from the contracted services for Reimagined Mind, how many full-time licensed counselors does the district employ and what schools do they serve?
  3. Is the district planning to hire full-time licensed counselors in lieu of the terminated Reimagined Mind contract?
  4. Is the district going to offer a new, remedied contract in place of the contract that was terminated?
  5. What’s the plan to share information about all of this with parents and caregivers?
  6. Why is there such a dearth of communication on details related to social and emotional learning and mental health services?
  7. Regardless of who provides the services – what services will be provided and when? There was very little communicated about Reimagined Mind during the period of September through November; we need to know more.

You can learn about this topic tonight by live streaming the district’s Facebook page. You can also email boarddocs@jcboe.org or call 201-915-6074 to speak remotely via public comment.

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