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Dozens Of MSD Students Walkout, Demand Better Mental Health Treatment

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Several dozen Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students walked out of school Wednesday morning to demand better mental health treatment.

Students crossed Pine Island Road and left the campus shortly before 11 am and Broward Sheriff's deputies blocked off traffic. The walkout was over in about 15 minutes.

Several of the students seemed less than serious about the walkout and others did not want to speak with a reporter. Several others said they they feel the school is not taking their mental and emotional needs serious enough and they are upset about two recent suicides — one of a current student and one of a recent graduate.

Freshman student Hailey Jacobson told me that the wellness center on campus is doing the best they can under the circumstances but that they need many more resources.

"They need to hear our voices," Jacobson said. "If somebody needs help, they're not going to help them this way. If somebody really needs help they need to make sure they need to make sure everyone knows it's a safe place at school and it's not happening."

At an afternoon news conference Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie said he's listened to students and provided nearly two dozen extra mental health professionals on campus and he believes students will need time to adjust to new administrators at the school.

"We've been pouring a lot of resources into Stoneman Douglas," Runcie said.

Runcie said the district has established wellness centers on campus with more than a dozen mental health counselors, helped set up a resiliency center in Parkland and he spoke about the new wellness program called Eagle's Haven in Coral Springs. Student Hailey Jacobson said she believes Eagle's Haven will make a difference.

"A little bit more needs to be done," she said. "The Eagles Haven just opened up and more people need to know about it because I feel like that's something that could help people."

Experts like Doctor David Schonfeld from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement said there are many avenues for students and staff to get help after these traumatic events.

"The message that I try and recommend to people is that you let the students know that even though we aren't talking about this every day, we're ready every day to provide the services to you," he said.

Schonfeld added that efforts are underway to encourage students and staff to come forward if they're having trouble through in-class presentations, community outreach and social media outreach. He said the efforts to provide services hasn't been perfect but he believes the Broward School District has been open-minded and done all they can to facilitate resources.

"I think that there's a lot being done," Schonfeld said. "I think there's more that can be done and I think that we can do it better and smarter. I'm not saying it's been perfect but I think it's been very good in many ways."

School district officials said they have spent millions of dollars on mental health treatment and they are trying to get reimbursement from the federal government for some of those funds. They want people to know that help is available.

"We're doing this because as a community we love you," Runcie said. "We love all of our kids and we're doing this to help you deal with any difficult time you may be having."

"We cannot afford to just go on and keep being busy and not pause for a moment to hear from our young people," School Board Member Dr. Rosalind Osgood said. "It's all of our responsibility to engage and make sure we're not losing another kid, another kid, another kid."

As for the students who walked out of school, the school district said they will face appropriate discipline.

Officials also said they have spent millions on mental health treatment and they are trying to get reimbursement from the federal government for some of those funds.

There are many resources available in Broward County, including 211 and a new program called Eagle's Haven.

Click here to identify and prevent suicide.

A GoFundMe page has been created 'In Loving Memory of Sydney Aiello.' Click here to donate.

Click here to read more about 'Parkland Strong: Support & Resources'

Other links:
Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention is Here to Help!

Your first call for help:

Tomorrow's Rainbow:

Children's Services Council:

Also, if you or anyone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, help is available.

Here are some important suicide prevention hotlines:

Broward County:
(954) 537-0211

Miami-Dade County:
Suicide Prevention/SafeNet
(305) 358-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention

There is free counseling and confidential support available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

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