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Killingly parents and students call for state help for school-based mental health center

Joe Girard, 11, holds up a sign imploring readers to "listen to our children" as he stands behind the podium at a rally of 
Killingly parents, students, and staff in Hartford in support of a student-based mental health center in Killingly High School. The school board has refused to create one, saying that there is no need.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Joe Girard, 11, shares a look with Killingly special education teacher Janelle Provencher during a rally in Hartford on Aug. 17, 2022. Killingly parents, students and staff came together at the Capitol in support of a student-based mental health center in Killingly High School.

Killingly parents and students gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday to plead with the Department of Education to help them get a mental health center at the high school.

“Students who require and have access to mental health counseling are much more likely to perform in a classroom, instead of shutting down, skipping class or dropping out,” said Lisa Higgins, a Killingly special education teacher.

“It’s incredibly difficult for anyone dealing with untreated mental health issues to learn,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to help more students, and we need to take advantage of this opportunity.”

The rally comes after the state Department of Education asked to meet with Killingly school board members later this month. Parents filed a complaint with the state arguing that the school district failed to provide mental health services to students in need. The department found the complaint to be substantial and opened an investigation.

In a letter sent to Killingly officials this week, the department said is has more questions on why the town’s school board decided to reject a grant-funded plan to open a school-based mental health center.

Joe Girard (11) holds up a sign imploring readers to "listen to our children" as he stands behind the podium at a rally of 
Killingly parents, students, and staff in Hartford in support of a student-based mental health center in Killingly High School. The Killingly School Board has refused to create one, saying that there is no need.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Killingly special education teacher Jenelle Provencher took part in a rally of Killingly parents, students and staff in Hartford in support of a student-based mental health center in Killingly High School. Behind Provencher is Julia Revellese and Joe Girard, holding up a sign imploring readers to "listen to our children." The Killingly school board has refused to create a center, saying that there is no need.

The school district received $3.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to help set up a school-based mental health center. But the school board voted against the plan in March.

Julia Revellese, a former Killingly High School student, said she left the district because she couldn’t get the mental health services she needed.

“There are students right now who can’t wait. I’m worried about my friends there; when I left there I left all of my friends,” she said. “But I’m worried about students who are younger than me, who are struggling but can’t advocate like others can.”

Revellese said she hopes both the state and Killingly school board members will listen to their cries for help.

“It’s been months and nothing has been done yet,” she said. “The state needs to step in and help make this happen in our schools. If I had these services, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out why I wasn’t doing well academically, and I wouldn’t have left Killingly.”

School board members have said that the district has provided and continues to provide a safe school environment through policies, individual lesson plans and student support staff.

The state education department and school board members are scheduled to meet later this month.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.