Add To Favorites
Killingly Board of Education chair blasts state investigation into district’s handling of student mental health
Hartford Courant - 11/3/2022
The chairman of the Killingly Board of Education fired off a statement Thursday, calling the investigatory process that led to the Connecticut State Board of Education’s rare decision to launch an official inquiry into the school board a “lie.”
Normand Ferron said he wants an apology and retraction from Michael McKeon, the director of Legal and Governmental Affairs for the state Department of Education. McKeon authored the investigative report that prompted the State Board of Education’s finding of a reasonable cause to believe that the Killingly school board “failed or is unable to” carry out the state’s educational interests regarding student mental health.
In an impassioned presentation to the State Board of Education on Wednesday, McKeon painted a scathing portrait of alleged indifference and inaction by Killingly board members. McKeon claimed that the local board failed to address student mental well-being despite securing millions in federal relief funding to address the issue.
The state’s investigation, report and recommendation was triggered by an April 10-4b complaint signed by 57 Killingly residents after their school board voted down a proposal for a grant-funded, school-based health center at Killingly High School.
Ferron said he was confused by the proceedings at the State Board of Education’s Wednesday meeting. He believes the investigation was “tainted from the beginning,” and the state is attempting to “undo a lawful, valid, bipartisan vote by the full Board of Education.”
“The lie is that this entire quest is about anything other than the ‘forced’ reinstatement of a school-based health clinic,” Ferron said. “A small group of very vocal parents, their attorney and Mr. McKeon are trying to disenfranchise the voters of the town of Killingly, make no mistake about that.”
Ferron said McKeon’s claims portrayed himself and colleagues as “Ebenezer Scrooges, denying much-needed help to our students for some nefarious reasons unknown to anyone.”
“Because of these outrageous statements by an agent of this state government, our characters, honesty and reputations have been irreparably damaged without one shred of evidence,” Ferron added.
In response to Ferron’s statement, the CSDE referred back to its detailed 38-page investigation report.
“Our report and recommendation, approved by the State Board of Education [Wednesday], merely sets forth the extensively documented evidence uncovered during the investigation into this matter,” CSDE Director of Communications Eric Scoville said. “The Connecticut State Department of Education looks forward to continuing our work with the Killingly Board of Education to resolve this situation in the best interests of our students.”
According to documents available to the CSDE, the last 10-4b complaint to result in an official inquiry was in 1990. The Connecticut Supreme Court ultimately resolved that case between the State Board of Education and the New Haven Board of Education in 1994.
“It’s a very rare occurrence,” Scoville said.
The State Board of Education will appoint three of its members to serve on a hearing panel and communicate with the Killingly board to “expeditiously move towards the scheduling of the hearing,” State Board of Education Chair Karen DuBois-Walton said Wednesday.
McKeon said Wednesday that the hearing could result in the State Board of Education ruling that Killing must remedy the situation. With no option of State Board of Education-ordered interim relief available, McKeon said that “the ball is in Killingly’s court,” and the state is equally prepared to collaborate with or prosecute the local board.
“The state department remains open and willing to work with Killingly to see if there some sort of solution that we can reach short of going through a full-blown hearing,” McKeon said. “The state department remains prepared to listen and to discuss. ... If they choose not to pursue that option, then we are prepared to prosecute the case.”
Ferron said he will continue to challenge the CSDE’s claims and fully cooperate with the department, its commissioner and its agents.
“I relish the opportunity to set the record straight,” he said.
At the start of the State Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Killingly residents and student advocates voiced their frustration with the perceived inaction of the Killingly school board.
Chief among their concerns was suicidal ideations in the school community. A December 2021 report requested by the Killingly Public Schools Administration and conducted by the Southeastern Regional Action Council, found that 66 (14.7%) of the 449 seventh through twelfth grade students surveyed had made a suicide plan and 82 (18.3%) had self-harmed.
McKeon said that during an August discussion of the data with Killingly board representatives, Ferron asked how the number of students with suicidal ideations in Killingly compared to other districts in the state.
According to the 10-4b complaint, while vice-chair of the board, Ferron allegedly suggested that 14.7% was “not that big” of a number. The former chair, who resigned after the complaint was filed, questioned if the 66 students who reported making a suicide plan were lying, the report said.
“We’re not talking about math scores here, we’re not talking literacy rates, we’re talking children who have made suicide plans,” McKeon said.
The report found other segments of the school district faltering.
“The chronic absenteeism is not decreasing, on the contrary, it has exploded,” McKeon said. “The academic performance indices are below state average. The suspension rates [are] the highest in five years. These do not happen in a vacuum. These happen within the context that Killingly itself has established.”
Killingly parent and 10-4b complainant Christine Rosati Randall spoke at the State Board of Education meeting about the dire need for state support.
“On paper what is happening in Killingly sounds distressing. I can assure you experiencing it firsthand, it is actually even more so,” she said. “If ever there was a case for the State Board of Education to step in, this is it. [Students] stepped up to fight for mental health supports, a journey that began in January and will hopefully end soon with the students finally receiving the services they need.”
Alison Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2022 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.