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June 17, 2024

Killingly mental health care expansion could end CT investigation

GINNY MONK / CT MIRROR Killingly's attorney Deborah Stevenson argues a point during the second day of the state's 10-4b hearing with the local school board on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Killingly Board of Education Vice Chair Kelly Martin sits beside Stevenson.

After more than two years of conflict in the town and a state investigation, the debate over whether there’s sufficient mental health care for students in Killingly could come to an end in the coming weeks.

A state Board of Education panel heard testimony Friday from a mental health service provider that said services are set to expand ahead of the next school year at the Killingly School District, pending financing. Caitlyn Ogilvie, a service director with Community Health Resources, told attorneys involved in a state hearing about the expansion plans.

“It would appear that the students of Killingly are finally getting what they needed for so long … and we would very much like this to be resolved before the beginning of the school year,” said Mike McKeon, the state Department of Education’s director of legal and governmental affairs.

The hearing was part of a 10-4b investigation from the education department to determine whether the local district violated the educational interests of the state when it passed on an opportunity to create a school-based health center for mental health care in 2022. These types of complaints rarely proceed to hearings, but this one has had several days of formal proceedings that have stretched across more than six months.

The case with the state isn’t officially settled, although attorneys for all parties involved said they expect to wrap it up ahead of the next school year.

A group of concerned Killingly residents filed the complaint with the state following a vote from the local school board two years ago to deny a grant-funded health center for students. The vote came after a mental health nonprofit’s survey of Killingly students from 7th to 12th grades, in which nearly 30% of the respondents reported that they’d had thoughts about hurting themselves. And 14.7% had made suicide plans.

Those opposed to the mental health center at the time raised complaints and references more commonly heard from the political right: cancel culture, Hillary Clinton, abortion and gender identity. 

Some wondered if schools are the best place for mental health care and questioned if providers would ask for parental consent to treat students.

More than a year after the initial vote, the local board approved a contract with Community Health Resources to provide part-time mental health care at the school district. 

In the 2023 election, the school board flipped to Democratic control, and members have decided to expand the contract.

CHR plans to have two full-time employees, and one half-time employee. The past contract was for an employee to work 0.6 of a week, although the agency has offered more services than that, Ogilvie said Friday.

There will also be school-based services at the elementary, middle and high schools, she added.

It’s not quite the same as a school-based health center. School-based health centers typically don’t charge a co-pay, whereas CHR will continue charging families and insurance for their services.

But, Ogilvie said, there are state resources available for those who can’t pay, and the group offers a sliding payment scale.

“The proposed provision of two and a half full-time-equivalent therapeutic services in three schools with respect to the new school year is light years away from what I believe the report referred to the seemingly deliberate indifference,” McKeon said, of an investigative report he wrote on Killingly ahead of the 10-4b hearings.

Andrew Feinstein, the attorney for the concerned parents who filed the complaint, said it’s a positive step.

“From the point of view of my clients, this would be a massive victory for the students of Killingly,” Feinstein said.

The state Board of Education’s 10-4b hearing panel plans to convene again in about a month to finalize a settlement, they said Friday.

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