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Dollars More Important Than Kids: Accidental Death, Suicide, Tragedies Highlight Safety Net Cuts

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The adults rolled the dice and the kids lost.

Bucks County, home to such literary giants as James Michener and Pearl Buck, is also home to a school district that is crafting an embarrassing non-fiction story of financial irresponsibility and worse, child neglect.

Neshaminy School District of Langhorne, PA, where teachers and the school board have been in a four-year contract battle, approved budget cuts that resulted in reductions to student safety nets. First they did away with The Learning Center, the highly-successful alternative program for high school student in need of extra emotional and/or behavioral support. Then, after disbursing the TLC faculty/counselors and placing the approximate 57-85 TLC students into the regular Neshaminy High population, they cut the number of counselors/social workers who served the high school BEFORE the additional students were transferred in. At the same time, they closed the high school's Sanctuary Room, a safe haven space for distraught students, where they could speak with a counselor about their issues.

In the past month alone, one 10th grader was killed by a train, another committed suicide and one more was seriously injured in a terrible bus accident. This isn't to necessarily say that the decision to close down TLC or The Sanctuary Room contributed to any of these tragedies, but certainly, the repercussions -- student grief and confusion -- are no longer dealt with through a day to day support system, but by a crisis to crisis intervention. Bandages instead of cures.

And while the adults in charge gamble with student well-being it's the kids who are made to suffer. Heroically, it's the kids who are stepping forward to plead for common sense. A recent editorial in the school's newspaper and a letter to the editor of the local Bucks County Courier, both written by students at Neshaminy, call on the District to reopen The Sanctuary Room staffed by a full-time counselor. Bucks County Commissioner, Diana Marseglia, herself a parent who lost a high school child to suicide, points out that the cost of the counselor can be dramatically reduced by hiring an outside qualified professional instead of employing a Neshaminy Federation of Teachers union member. The approval of such a move by the union and the school board is a small sacrifice compared to the vital benefit it will provide the students.

There are talks being held to consider possible options to resolve the problem as soon as possible, but forming committees, placating partisan agendas or saving a few dollars is unacceptable at this juncture. The possibility that these cutbacks could be made without damage to body or soul has been a miserable miscalculation with terrible consequences. It's no longer a question of "if" unacceptable harm will be done. It's "will we stand by and continue to allow more unimaginable pain to be heaped onto these kids and their families?"

Open The Sanctuary Room now!

Steve Young is an award-winning television writer, author and father of a Neshaminy High School student. (www.greatfailure.com)