Several board members earlier this month requested an agenda item be added to this week’s April 27 meeting to discuss allowing Generations Family Health Center, Inc. to operate a school-based health center, or SBHC, at the high school for a year.
A motion to move the item to “actionable,” or voting, status failed after not garnering enough member support. There was no discussion as to whether the issue would formally come before the board again.
A similar proposal was rejected by the board last month, but several members said during an April 13 meeting they were willing to reconsider the idea if, among other changes, parents could essentially prevent their children from using the center without permission.
But Superintendent Robert Angeli told members that state law allows minors to avail themselves of the sorts of behavioral and mental health services Generations would offer without parental notification.
He said Melissa Meyers, chief operating officer for Generations, informed him that instances of students accessing such services on their own in other towns were “exceedingly rare,” with parents typically brought into the conversations “hopefully, by the very first session.”
Angeli said since Generations, which operates a school-based health center in the Putnam school district, funds its work through insurance billing, parents would know very quickly if a child is using the service.
Democrat Chris Viens, one of three board members to vote for the initial proposal, motioned to make the SBHC discussion an actionable item, a request that required support from two-thirds of the board.
Only Viens and fellow Democrat Susan Lannon voted in favor of the motion.
The vote nearly mirrored that of March 16 when Republican members Janice Joly – who’s since resigned – Norm Ferron, Jennifer Hegedus, Kyle Napierata and Jason Muscara, along with Democrat Lydia Rivera Abrams, voted against a proposal to bring a Generations center to the high school for a five-year period.
Republican Kelly Martin, who initially voted in favor of the center, voted against moving the issue to another vote on Wednesday.
Proponents said the health center would be a crucial addition for addressing an uptick in mental health issues, including depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety, among students.
What happens now?
The March rejection sparked center supporters to file a complaint with the state Board of Education alleging the board failed to “provide the minimum services and supports necessary to deal with the social, emotional and mental health needs” of the district’s high school students. The state, deeming the accusation “substantial,” has opened an investigation into the complaint.
Viens, referencing the state investigation, said the board’s failure to act on Wednesday put the “charter of the board in jeopardy.”
The initial rejection also led to a successful citizen petition filing directing the board to host a public hearing on Thursday with the goal of having the six “no” voting members explain their stances. Angeli reiterated that board members are under no obligation to respond to questions at the hearing.
‘Please don’t disappoint us’
As in previous meetings, public comments on Wednesday were overwhelmingly in support of the school-based health center. Cillian Young, a former high school student, spoke again about his suicide attempt amid a mental health crisis. He recalled his father walking into the room where he tried to kill himself.
“His face, I’ll never forget,” he said. “This (SBHC) won’t just help the young people of Killingly, but parents. I love Killingly so much. Please don’t disappoint us.”
Several speakers said proposals made by board members to substitute the health center with “alternative” options – peer mediation, anti-bullying programming and the hiring of more staff – were laudable ideas, but not adequate solutions.
Resident Heidi Driscoll said the alternatives were “no substitute” for a school-based health center staffed by licensed mental health workers. She said a proposal to use the board’s non-lapsing account to hire a psychotherapist, family therapist and other support staff wasn’t practical as there are already 22 open positions at the high school.
“(The SBHC) would be fully funded at no cost to the town,” Driscoll said. “Why compromise? If it helps one student, it’s worth it.”
Resident Ivy Ross, who has three grandchildren in the district, questioned why the board was dragging its feet on the issue.
“I’m not sure why we’re still talking about this and not providing what Generations has offered,” she said. “I don’t understand the ‘no’s’ being voted here.”
John Penney can be reached at [email protected] or at (860) 857-6965
This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Killingly BOE declines to reconsider school-based health center