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Avon's Plan to Replace School Social Workers With Psychologists Draws Ire

Shan Ran
Creative Commons
Parents have started a petition seeking a hearing to reverse the school board's decision.

Avon has decided to replace its school social workers with school psychologists. According to the district, school psychologists will better meet students' needs.

Laura Knee disagrees. For 28 years, Knee worked as a social worker for Avon Public Schools. She's now losing her job, along with three other social workers.

“Given where we are, the state in which we live, what we know about the lives of kids, that you would choose to eliminate an essential service... it’s taking out a discipline that services kids in a school system,” Knee said.

Steve Karp, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said there is some overlap between the two fields, but school psychologists usually focus on the student, whereas social workers look at the context that the student is in.  

“School psychologists and school social workers are not interchangeable parts, they complement each other, and a comprehensive mental health approach really needs both,” Karp said.

“School psychologists and school social workers are not interchangeable parts."
Steve Karp

There's also a difference between school psychologists, who have masters degrees, and clinical psychologists, who have doctorates. Karp said this can be misleading for some parents who think the school psychologist is a doctor.

Tammy Hughes, a psychology professor at Duquesne University, said there isn't much difference between the school psychologists and their clinical counterparts. School psychologists usually deal with preventative counseling and special education needs, whereas clinical psychologists work with clients who are dealing with an immediate problem. 

The difference in education, Hughes said, is based on state-level decisions that determine what level of education school psychologists should have.

Former school psychologist Kelly Grant, who is now director of pupil and personnel services in Avon, came up with the idea to swap social workers with psychologists. Grant did not respond to a request for comment. School board Chairman Peggy Roell also did not respond. 

Parents have been vocal about keeping the social workers, and formed a petition seeking a hearing to reverse the school board's decision.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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