Parents and students are expressing concern following the cancellation of a contract with a company that had begun to provide counseling to students.
In a special meeting of the Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 29, Jersey City Public Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker was unable to elaborate on why just eleven days earlier the district cancelled the contract with vendor Reimagined Mind for the 2021–22 school year.
The decision to terminate the contract, which board members made at its regular meeting Nov. 18, was discussed during an executive session of the meeting after parents and the vendor’s CEO spoke publicly.
Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker told the audience he could not elaborate on the matter due to legal concerns. In a Twitter post several days later, however, Board President Mussab Ali hinted at next steps.
“A vendor’s contract was canceled because they were out of compliance with several regulations. We are working diligently to find a replacement + upgrade services. Going through procurement process so unfortunately not overnight solution,” he tweeted.
Local education blogger, parent, and Jersey City Together leader Brigid D’Souza had urged parents to attend the Nov. 29 meeting. To bolster her argument that student counseling was needed, she furnished documents showing that federal funding had been provided to help pay for the counseling.
Several parents did attend. They were not happy with the results.
Jessica Taube, parent and social worker, said, “I’m just really concerned that the program that’s funded by federal dollars that we can’t always count on, that was meant to provide mental health services and social emotional learning for all of our students in the district, has come to an abrupt halt with very little explanation.”
But parents were not the only members of the public to express disappointment that the contract was pulled. .
At the Nov. 18 board meeting, a 19-year-old student who had seen her cousin shot and killed testified emotionally to the support Clemente, the Reimagined Mind CEO, offered her following an assembly on gun violence.
“Miss Clemente has never left my side since that day,” she said. “She worked with me and was patient, and I could tell that she really cared about me and my mental health. She helped me practice mindfulness, and I even got to work with some of her other peers who provided more resources and information that was useful to me in the future.”
Clemente also spoke (at both November meetings). Having been hired only five days before the start of the school year, she implied that the district had not given her team ample time to build and implement a comprehensive mental health counseling program:
“The program was off to a really great start, and we began to affect change within the school community, and we were supporting the most vulnerable of your students. The Reimagined team spent a total of 39 days in your district before we were unexpectedly kept out of the buildings,” Clemente said on Nov. 29.
Clemente said she asked the board to compensate Reimagined Mind for the time worked and to allow clinicians back in the buildings so they could comply with new requirements:
“Your district pulled the rug from underneath us with no warning,” the CEO said. “We were given this illusion that these new requirements, which were never part of the original contract, would satisfy the district administration, and all would be well. Yet, the action of terminating the contract just several days after making these requests speaks for itself.”