Shawnee Mission parents lobby district leaders to provide a counselor at every school

Jamie Elwood was among the parents asking the board to provide counselors at every school.

Shawnee Mission’s failure to provide a full-time counselor in every school building is forcing teachers to spend time dealing with students’ emotional needs instead of focusing on instruction, a group of district parents told the board of education Monday.

Seven speakers, many of whom have children at Corinth Elementary, explained scenarios their children and children’s teachers had faced in recent months where the lack of access to a counselor had stressed both students and staff.

The parents’ advocated for the district to hire a full-time counselor for every building in Shawnee Mission starting this fall.

One mother, Jamie Elwood, told the board that her daughter had been exposed to a “mean girls” situation in her classroom, causing her to start hating school. And while her daughter’s teacher had worked proactively to address the situation, she eventually ran out of ideas.

“Teachers are not counselors,” Elwood said. “Counselors are trained professionals that know how to address the murky waters of social aggression and yo-yo friendships that are so prevalent in our elementary schools.”

Another mother, Jennifer Anast, told of her daughters’ experiences trying to get reacclimated to the classroom after the death of their younger sister from leukemia in December. Both the sisters and their classmates struggled with the death — but neither the girls nor their friends from class had access to a counselor to help discuss the situation.

“Instead, my grieving children had to field questions from their peers about their sister’s death,” Anast said. She said she understood that it was parents’ responsibility to provide professional mental health services in many cases, but that the lack of access to school counselors was having an impact on schools’ ability to focus on teaching.

“There is a wide chasm of issue that fall between needing no help, and needing a professional psychologist,” Anast said.

Elizabeth Wallace, who attended Shawnee Mission schools and worked in the district, told the board that her child had struggled when he started attending Ray Marsh Elementary at the beginning of the school year. When an unexpected move sent the family to a new home in the Blue Valley School District, the school counselor there quickly went about helping her son feel comfortable and working with him on social skills. She asked the board to consider providing a similar resource here in Shawnee Mission, where the family is building a house.

The board and administration did not provide direct feedback on the parents’ request, though Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick said leaders would be looking at counselor staffing issues as part of the budgeting and personnel process for the coming school year.

Members of the board listened to parents as they discussed the need for more counselors at Shawnee Mission schools.