Students with mental illness subject of Tuesday workshop

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Since those 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, issues surrounding mental illness have been thrust into the foreground.

The tragedy has forced communities everywhere to re-examine how they treat mental illness and to better identify and serve children and students who have mental illness.

The Calcasieu Parish School Board meeting room was filled with people attending a workshop on educating such students on Tuesday. Program Director Valla Johnson said officials want to make sure children get the help they need.

"What happens when services are not provided is that a student will possibly get discouraged, give up, drop out of school, become a non productive citizen, get into trouble," Johnson said.

Donna Combre Lemelle's son spent 30 years behind bars. She said today's programs would likely have made a huge difference for him.

"It had to have been something mentally wrong. I don't know about this ADD and all this stuff now that they've come up with. At that time, I had never heard of that," said Lemelle.

Lemelle said he now has a job and is a productive citizens. Calcasieu Parish has the Positive Connections School which provides an education for students who struggle with a mental illness, but there's a waiting list. Director Ernest Fruge said often such children can make the transition  back to school.

"We will monitor them as they transition back, for the first year back, to ensure that they are a success in their program," Fruge said.

Some parents may hesitate to get help, for fear their child will be stigmatized or labeled. But officials said mental illness doesn't need to define a child.

"It's not a kiss of death for that child. They can be productive. They  can be just like their friends in school. They may just need a different way of getting there," Fruge said.

School officials hope their efforts will help children get what they need to be a success at school and life.

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