The town of Killingly, with its Town Hall pictured, is part of Windham County in Connecticut.
The town of Killingly, with its Town Hall pictured, is part of Windham County in Connecticut. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel & Rcsprinter123 via Wikipedia / CTNewsJunkie composite
Barth Keck

The citizens of Killingly, Connecticut deserve answers. That’s precisely what the residents who filed a complaint last Tuesday were seeking. 

“A group of more than 50 Killingly parents and residents are asking the state Department of Education to investigate the town’s school board after the body rejected a plan that would have created a mental health center at the high school amid an increase in related challenges among students,” reported the Hartford Courant.

The hasty resignation of board chair Janice Joly three days later only raises more questions concerning the board’s decision to nix the proposed mental health center in a 6-3 vote at a special meeting in March, despite vocal support from residents.

The board’s decision came despite the results of a November survey of 477 Killingly students that revealed 28% of them feel “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more,” and 28.2% admit to “having thoughts of hurting themselves.”

The reaction at the time from then-board chair Joly?

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

Excuse me? A school board chair whose first thought is that kids can’t be trusted? An educational leader who immediately disavows children’s psychological needs? Aside from the utter insensitivity of Joly’s response, it’s nowhere close to a reason for rejecting a mental health center. Killingly residents deserve real answers from the school board.

Maybe cost is the problem.

“The plan would have allowed Generations Family Health Center to bring mental and behavioral health services to students at Killingly High, at no cost to the school district,” reported WTNH.

Maybe not. Then perhaps the board feels a comprehensive health center – a facility that offers a full array of physical and psychological services – is more than the local high school students need. 

Again, nope. According to a presentation made to the board in March, the center would offer only behavioral health services.

This fact did not stop state Rep. Anne Dauphinais, a Killingly Republican, from sending out a disingenuous public survey that asked respondents questions like, “Do you support schools counseling minor students on contraceptives, premarital sex, or abortion issues without parental knowledge or consent?”

Now we’re on to something. Maybe the tight-lipped resistance to establishing a mental-health center at Killingly High School is purely political.

To that point, the board tipped its hand back in November when it rejected a plan for Killingly schools to host a voluntary COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

“We’re a school, not a medical facility,” said Joly at the time, adding that the service a school nurse provides “doesn’t come even close to getting something injected into your body when you’re 5 years old.”

Could it be that the Killingly board of education is merely echoing the politics of more conservative states that have already expressed criticism of school-based social-emotional programs? The answer seems clear, given how the issue has played out elsewhere.

“[T]his year, lawmakers in Indiana and Virginia considered bills restricting use of [social-emotional] programs, and a bill in Oklahoma is pending that would bar use of state or federal funding for SEL (social-emotional learning),” reported the Washington Post. “And in districts across the country, parents have begun to question or outright oppose these programs. Challenges have popped up in Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Utah, among other states.”

The criticism of social-emotional programs, including mental-health services, ranges from how they “restrict parental involvement” in schools to how they “indoctrinate students in Marxist ideology” and “groom children” on issues of gender.

Of course, nobody knows if these are truly the concerns of the Killingly school board members who rebuffed the mental health center because no board members have made their rationale public. In fact, “Neither the minutes nor video recording [of the definitive board meeting] are on the school board website, in violation of Connecticut’s open meetings laws,” according to the Hartford Courant.

In the meantime, the students at Killingly High School – just like 40% of teenagers across the country who say they felt “persistently sad or hopeless during the pandemic” – are left waiting for the urgent attention many of them need.

Killingly’s citizens – and especially Killingly’s children – deserve answers.

Barth Keck is in his 32nd year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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