Legal responses and counter-responses mark the Killingly BOE investigation

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The lawyer representing a citizens’ group who filed a lawsuit against the Killingly School Board says ‘imminent disaster’ looms in the district unless students’ mental health issues are addressed .

In a May 16 letter to attorney Michael McKeon, director of legal and governmental affairs for the state Department of Education, attorney Andrew Feinstein reiterated his argument that the board has “not responded educational interests” stated by the state after members rejected a school health center, or SBHC, in high school and failed to offer practical alternatives.

The letter marks the latest skirmish in what has become a war of words between dueling interests fought by their respective lawyers – with each side hoping to convince state investigators of the merits of their arguments.

Six board members — Janice Joly (who has since resigned), Norm Ferron, Jennifer Hegedus, Kyle Napierata and Jason Muscara, as well as Democrat Lydia Rivera Abrams — voted March 16 against a proposal to allow the Generations Family Health Center Inc. to operate a school health center at Killingly High School at no cost to the district.

Feinstein’s letter was sent less than two weeks after the board defended its actions, although a response to the complaint argued that members were well within their statutory rights to reject the proposal.

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In that response, the board, through its attorneys, said Feinstein’s original April 5 complaint was a red herring.

“The complaint does not relate to a school board’s failure to provide an integrated and comprehensive educational program designed to meet the needs of all students in a safe and nurturing learning environment,” board attorneys Shipman & Goodwin LLP. “Instead, it stems from disagreement over a single decision by the Killingly Board of Education: whether or not the board should provide space in its high school for Generations to provide private social work counseling services.”

Feinstein, who represents the group “Concerned Residents/Parents of Murderous Students,” countered that the availability of mental health services is the “heart” of the complaint that the state has deemed important enough to investigate.

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“The Killingly Board of Education has, both through the statements of board members and through its inaction, promoted the idea that public education is limited to academic matters and that public schools need not delve into children’s personal lives,” Feinstein wrote. .

Feinstein writes that the state has a choice: dismiss the complaint and accept the council’s “truncated” definition of the state’s educational interests, or order the council to create a “comprehensive system” to meet the social and emotional needs of children. students.

If the complaint is upheld, the state could order Killingly’s council to initiate a remedial process to rectify the lack of compliance.

“Such a decision would not only impact Killingly, but would let the entire state know what proper public education requires,” Feinstein’s response states.

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After rejecting the school-based health center, board members offered several “alternative” options, including hiring more staff and introducing peer mediation and anti-bullying programs. Feinstein called the hiring proposal an impractical solution given the district’s limited budget and its inability to fill existing vacancies.

“This problem is not that the board didn’t choose the best possible option,” Feinstein wrote, referring to the health center. “Instead, faced with a demonstrable crisis in the mental health of its students, the Council rejected a demonstrably workable solution for political reasons while engaging in a meaningless exercise of considering (alternatives).”

Christine Rosati Randall, a staunch supporter of the school-based health center plan, said Friday that the council had already presented a rebuttal to Feinstein’s own counter-response.

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“And I expect (Feinstein) to file a response to the board’s latest letter as well,” she said. “Hopefully the state will make a decision on this next month.”

State Board of Education officials could not immediately be reached for comment on its investigation schedule.

The initial proposal for the health center, forwarded by Superintendent Robert Angeli months ago, called on Generations to provide a range of free mental and behavioral health services to high school students. Proponents said such a service was crucial in addressing a rise in mental health issues, including depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety, among students.

At a May 11 board meeting, several residents again urged the council to reconsider its rejection decision. The Board of Directors, by majority vote, declined to allow public comment to exceed the 20 minute limit allotted on the SBHC topic. A motion to add discussion and a possible action point on the proposal to the night’s agenda also failed to garner enough support.

John Penney can be reached at jpenney@norwichbulletin.com or (860) 857-6965.

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