South San ISD students ask board to move money used to reopen schools to fund mental health programs

By Patty Santos - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - South San Independent School District students say the recent vote by the board of trustees to move forward with plans to reopen three closed schools is fueling their resolve to get the community involved in making a change.

Melivia Mujica and Amanda Nava spoke out against the district’s efforts during a school board meeting Wednesday. More than a dozen students showed up with signs that read, “Student voices matter” and “Our lives are in your hands.” Some even sharing their personal stories about mental health problems and suicide attempts.

“(The students’) grades go down. They don’t care about school. When they find that help, they're going to have to go downtown to get the help they need,” Mujica said.

Their effort was to persuade the board to divert the money intended to reopen Kazen Middle School, Athenes Elementary and West Campus High School to mental health programs and campus building improvements.

 “To show that they were still going to vote against us kind of proves that we’re not being heard,” Nava said.

Students say they are paying for equipment that the district should be providing. Parents also pointed out buildings in desperate need of repair.

“We pay out of pocket for equipment we need, which isn't necessarily our job, and I feel like there’s a lot more things we can use,” Nava said.

Jenny Suniga Collier, district spokeswoman, said the plan is not yet final and other meetings will be held before a final vote is made.

“We are still in the planning stages,” she said.

She applauded the students resolve to become their own advocates.

“It was heartbreaking to hear those kids coming forward and talking about their struggles and something so personal and private,” Suniga Collier said. “I think everyone in the room was in awe of their strength and courage.”

“When we gave our testimonies, they felt ashamed. They felt embarrassed, but when they voted, they voted headstrong,” Mujica said.

The board also voted 4-3 against hearing a proposal by Councilman Rey Saldana to turn Kazen Middle School into a community center in partnership with the district and city. The $10 million proposal would appear in the 2022 bond and could include health services.

Saldana said other school districts interested in the partnership have reached out to his office. A meeting about the community plan will take place April 9 at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church.

The students worry about what the delay in getting mental health programs to become more readily available could mean for their peers. 

“I assure you, there are more students at the school that feel the same way. This is a (recurring) topic at our school. We walk about this, how we don’t feel safe, how we feel that we need more mental health services,” Mujica said.

“Reopening schools takes that away from us,” Nava said.

The district said more funding was made available this school year after the district noticed a spike in mental health cases last year. There are several partnerships and grants that have been made available, but students say more is needed.

The students plan to host a town hall meeting to inform the community about what they want to see.

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