On November 1, 2022, NBC CT published an article and video about the CT Department of Education report detailing how they believe the Killingly Board of Education has failed to meet the mental health and behavioral needs of students.
The Killingly Board of Education has failed to meet the mental health needs of its students, according to a report from the Connecticut State Department of Education.
The report follows a six-month investigation into a complaint made by Killingly parents and students in April.
The initial complaint was filed with the state after the Killingly Board of Ed voted against a plan to operate a behavioral health center in the high school.
The complaint alleged that the, "Killingly Board of Education has failed to fulfill the educational interest of the State of Connecticut by failing to provide the minimum services and support necessary to deal with the social, emotional and mental health needs of the students of High School."
More than 50 people signed on to the complaint.
The investigation into the complaint is summed up in a 32-page report that has now been submitted to the state Board of Ed. According to the state's Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, the report details the Killingly board's repeated failure and refusal to address its students' clear mental health needs.
"There is a difference between working to ensure sufficient supports for students, however unsuccessful, and declining to prescribe any meaningful interventions despite acknowledging that there is a clear and present need to do so," Russell-Tucker wrote in a letter to the state board of education.
"A lack of adequacy does not necessarily equate with what appears to be the deliberate indifference demonstrated by the Killingly Board to its students’ significant and widespread mental health issues, and it is that systemic indifference that distinguishes this from other school boards confronting these issues," she continued.
Russell-Tucker is recommending that the state Board of Ed uphold the complaint and find that there is reasonable cause to believe the Killingly BOE failed to implement the education interests of the state.
The board will review the commissioner's recommendation at their meeting on Wednesday Nov. 2 at 9:30 a.m.
Connecticut State Department of Education Investigation Report
The investigation report from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) details an alleged refusal by the Killingly Board of Ed to address students' well-documented mental health needs. Included in the report is data pointing to "alarming" mental health indicators, increases in chronic absenteeism, and declines in core academic areas.
Despite the data, the CSDE determined that the the board, "repeatedly failed and refused to implement any meaningful intervention to address the mental health needs of its students."
According to the state's report, there has been a documented and recognized need for mental health support in Killingly schools. Referred to as the most "glaring" example is a Dec. 2021 report from the Southeastern Regional Action Council (SERAC).
SERAC administered an online survey to Killingly students in grades seven through 12. Results from that survey showed that about 14.7% of the students reported having seriously considered attempting suicide, 18.2% report having hurt themselves on purpose, and 28.6% report that in the past year they have felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more.
The state's investigation also revealed that as of May 3, 2022, Killingly's school counseling staff had handled at least 660 unplanned or responsive counseling sessions. According to the state's report, Killingly implemented a "counseling priority form" to deal with the high volume.
Killingly Public Schools began to investigate the possibility of bringing a school-based health center to the district in the spring of 2021. Killingly was one of 21 towns in Connecticut that a special working group recommended for expansion of SBHC access.
In addition to the recommendation from the working group, there was an understanding of an increased and pressing need for mental health support.
According to the state's investigation, Superintendent Robert Angeli said that there was an "administration assumption" that the board would be open to approving the plan for a SBHC. Angeli had expressed support for the behavioral health SBHC from the beginning.
However, on March 16, the Killingly Board of Ed voted against the plan for Generations Health to offer behavioral health services in the high school.
Schools are not required under Connecticut law to establish SBHCs, but the state's investigation report points out that denying the SBHC was not the singular focus of the investigation.
According to the state's investigation, there have been at least 18 Killingly school board meetings since the SERAC report in Dec. 2021.
"Yet none of them have resulted in the adoption or implementation of any meaningful substantive interventions to address the documented mental health and behavioral needs of their students," the report states.
The state's report notes that there has been an increase in Killingly's school social worker and guidance counselor vacancies. Additionally, the state's investigation found that Killingly has only one school psychologist on staff among its four schools.
"Because Killingly found it difficult to hire additional school psychologists, it simply stopped advertising for them," the report states. "The board had ample financial resources in the form of ESSER II and ARP ESSER funds to increase its mental health resources. Nonetheless, and despite repeated opportunities to implement interventions, the Killingly Board repeatedly, systematically, and inexplicably failed and refused to do so."
Killingly's board formed a committee for the purpose of finding alternatives to the SBHC, but the committee has not met or taken any action, according to the state's investigation.
"The board's inaction has been so systemic and so prolonged that one could reasonably consider it to constitute an intentional refusal to address its students' mental health needs," the investigation report concludes.
Response from Killingly Board of Education
The Chairperson of the Killingly Board of Ed Norm Ferron told NBC Connecticut that it was not possible to do an interview at this time.
In an email, Ferron expressed disappointment that the board was not notified of the commissioner's recommendation before it was released publicly.
"I will have much more to say on this in the coming weeks," Ferron wrote in an email.
Killingly Parents and Students Still Waiting for Help
Christine Rosati Randall, one of the more than 50 people who signed on to the complaint, said she was pleased to read the state's investigation report, but she is concerned that there are still not adequate mental health resources for students.
"It has been a year since the survey was put out and our students still don't have the mental health support that they need," Rosati Randall said. "It is an unsafe school setting and something has to be done."
Attorney Andrew Feinstein, representing the concerned Killingly parents and students, shared the same concern.
"The report was very strong. I am quite happy with the language of the report. I am not happy with the time it took to date and I am not happy with the amount of time it may take in the future before we get some remedy in Killingly," Feinstein said. "If 15% of kids have a plan to commit suicide in Killingly, we are sitting on a time bomb."
The State Board of Education will decide what happens next. If board members vote to deny the commissioner's recommendation, they can dismiss the original complaint against the Killingly Board of Ed. If they vote to approve the commissioner's recommendation, they can order a hearing.
The Connecticut BOE will consider the commissioner's recommendation at their next meeting, Wednesday, November 2 at 9:30 a.m. in Hartford.