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Phoenix-Talent, Douglas among four Oregon districts to get $20 million to hire school mental health staff

Students with Live to Tell, a student-led suicide prevention organization, meet with Sen. Jeff Merkley at his Salem office in 2019.
Rachel Alexander
Salem Reporter
Students with Live to Tell, a student-led suicide prevention organization, meet with Sen. Jeff Merkley at his Salem office in 2019.

Three Oregon school districts and an education service district have received $20 million from the U.S. Department of Education to hire more mental health staff.

The Douglas Education Service District, which serves 13 school districts in Douglas County will get more than $6.8 million, the largest of the grants. Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, will receive more than $5.5 million, Corbett School District east of Portland will get nearly $5 million and Phoenix-Talent schools will get more than $2.6 million. The money will be distributed over five years.

The funding was announced Friday by Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats.

“Students, teachers and counselors across Oregon tell me just how crucial school-based mental health services are to young people facing challenges at home and in the classroom,” Wyden said in a statement, “but these services are stretched to the breaking point.”

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said in a statement that the district will use the money to hire more than a dozen school psychologists to help students with feelings of isolation, depression and other adverse impacts of the last few years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brent Barry, superintendent of the Phoenix-Talent School District, said in a statement that being able to hire more counselors and psychologists will help schools continue to collaborate with La Clinica, a community health center in Medford, to support students and families still dealing with the impact of the 2020 Almeda fire and the pandemic.

“The need here is tremendous and likely will be for some time,” he said. “We are very excited to get to work and eternally grateful for this opportunity to help our kids and families.”

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Alex Baumhardt covers education and the environment for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Before that she was a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media for four years. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.