SAEGERTOWN — PENNCREST School District students in grades seven through 12 facing emotional and mental strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will have a therapeutic classroom in which to recover and eventually return to standard schooling starting next year.

At Thursday's voting meeting, PENNCREST School Board members unanimously approved the creation of the classroom, which will operate out of Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High School but be open to students across the district.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said he expects getting the classroom up-and-running to cost between $74,000 and $94,000, in part because the district will be contracting a mental health professional to staff the room alongside a special education teacher.

However, Patti Fiely, PENNCREST's director of student services, said the district may be able to save some money as a result of the class, as the district sometimes has to pay for out-of-district mental health services given to students.

Fiely detailed the planned classroom to the board at its work session on Tuesday. She said PENNCREST has seen a "significant increase" in students requiring in-patient days at hospitals and/or referrals for partial hospitalization due to mental health matters since the year began. One district high school — which Patti did not specify which for privacy reasons — has seen 17 students in such conditions during the school year.

"It's about three or four times what it is in a typical school year, and that's just coming out of one building," she said.

The classroom would primarily focus on improving the mental health of the students, with a secondary focus on keeping the students up-to-date academically. Placement in the classroom is intended to be temporary, with the goal of either having the student return to standard classes or be referred to another program once a spot opens up. Many such programs are currently full, Fiely said, with no spaces available for additional students.

Students attending the classroom will operate on a different schedule than the rest of the students, with a different arrival and departure time from school.

The therapeutic classroom is not an entirely new thing to the area, but is the first such classroom in Crawford County for students in upper grade levels. Fiely said Conneaut and PENNCREST school districts have a shared therapeutic classroom with a similar format but for elementary school students.

Glasspool said he expects the class to be up-and-running at the start of next school year.

Board member Brian Lynch was not present for the meeting and thus did not vote. Board President Mark Gerow attended virtually.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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