State Department of Education orders investigation into Killingly school board – Hartford Courant

In a relatively rare step, the Connecticut Department of Education is opening an investigation into the Killingly Board of Education after a group of parents and residents last week filed a complaint alleging the school board is failing to meet social and emotional health standards set out by the state.

The complaint — known as a 10-4b, which allows residents to appeal when the local school board fails to implement the educational interests of the state — stems from the Killingly school board’s rejection of a plan that would have created a school-based mental health center at the high school, at no cost to the district.

“We are pleased that the State Department of Education is taking this complaint seriously. The mental health crisis our students are facing is very real,” Christine Rosati Randall, a Killingly parent, said in a statement. “Our students need help now. The School-Based Mental Health Center is an immediate way to meet the dire need of our students at no cost to the District.”

The state’s decision to pursue an investigation doesn’t mean it has found the allegations set out in the 10-4b complaint to be true.

Rather, it means the state has determined that it merits a “substantial complaint,” defined as “a complaint that sets forth basic facts which state a cause of action concerning an alleged violation of the educational interests of the state.”

The focus of the investigation is whether the Killingly school board is providing “a safe school setting,” according to the letter sent to the board signed by Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.

It is the first time in at least a decade the state Department of Education is moving forward with an investigation for this purpose.

The state has received 30 10-4b complaints over the last 10 years, according to Andrew Feinstein, an attorney working with the Killingly residents. Of those, at least 23 were dismissed outright.

In March, the Killingly Board of Education voted 6-3 to reject the plan for a school-based health center.

The plan was designed in partnership between the district’s superintendent and Generations Family Health Center. It would have come at no cost to the district, and had vocal support within the community.

Parents and staff argue the need for mental health services in Killingly schools goes beyond what its counselors and social workers have the capacity to provide amid an increase in demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As alleged in the 10-4b complaint, survey and school data suggesting a dire need for mental and behavioral health intervention in a community where access to services is a challenge.

Nearly 15% of Killingly students admit to having made a suicide plan, according to a November survey of 477 students in grades 7 to 12 conducted by SERAC, a nonprofit focused on mental health in eastern Connecticut.

More than 28% reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more, and another 28.2% admitted to having thoughts of hurting themselves.

There were 500 incidents where students had to leave class to receive immediate counseling in just the first half of the 2021-2022 school year, the complaint reads.

Killingly High School is calling 211 “several times a week” for services, according to Kristine Cicchetti, human resource assistant in Killingly Public Schools.

Cicchetti said the school board floated the idea of ​​hiring another school psychologist, but she argues this is the wrong tactic.

“The district has had a school psychologist opening for over a year, but [the school board’s] the solution is to create another vacancy in our school district instead of providing our children with the appropriate level of mental health resources they require — it makes no sense,” Cicchetti said in a statement.

A small group of students, parents and staff made the trip from Killingly to Hartford last Wednesday to appeal to education leaders during the state Board of Education’s monthly meeting.

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“The issue of children and staff’s social, emotional and behavioral well-being is so critical to education,” Russell-Tucker, education commissioner, said during the meeting. “We continue … to work to ensure that every school building in our state has the requisite support necessary, be it more staff, be it working in partnership, to make sure that we are addressing those needs because they’re critical to academic success, and just overall well being.”

Janice Joly, former chair of the Killingly school board, resigned on Friday. She had drawn particular criticism within the community for appearing to doubt the veracity of the mental health survey during a school board meeting.

“How do you know they were honest responses? They were dealing with kids. They could have written anything. That’s what kids do,” Joly said.

Joly did not provide a reason for her resignation in a letter letter to the town clerk, but elaborated on her departure in an interview with WINY Radio.

“The reason why I resigned was because there’s so much hate I believe on the Democrats’ side,” Joly reportedly told WINY. “There could be some Republicans involved as well, but mainly it seems like it’s coming from the Democrats. And it’s become rather saddening and scary, and I just felt like I didn’t want to be part of any of this anymore.”

Regarding her comments about the survey, Joly said “That was a generality. They turned it into, ‘She said our kids our liars.’ And that is not what I said. That’s not what I meant.”

Seamus McAvoy may be reached at smcavoy@courant.com

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