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One year later: Killingly parents still await decision on a school mental health center

Ivy Ross (left) kisses her daughter Emily Ross after the two addressed the Killingly School Board of Education at a board meeting April 28. Emily said during testimony she endured regular bullying in high school due to her sexual orientation. “I have an emotionally literate parent and I did not tell her,” she said, “I feel safe with her and I still did not tell her. And I think that’s why it hurts so much to watch you debate this topic,” she told the board. “We know this isn’t a question of morality,” said Ross, “Because we know that if a child or a high school student came to you and asked for help and said they wanted to take their own life, you would not ask, ‘well, how much would it cost?’ or ‘is your parent aware of the services you are seeking?’ You would help.”
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Ivy Ross (left) kisses daughter Emily Ross after the two addressed the Killingly Board of Education last year about the need for a school-based mental health clinic. Emily said during testimony that she endured regular bullying in high school due to her sexual orientation. “I have an emotionally literate parent and I did not tell her,” she said. “I feel safe with her, and I still did not tell her. And I think that’s why it hurts so much to watch you debate this topic,” she told the board.

Several parents and residents in Killingly are demanding answers from the state Board of Education after a lack of action regarding their complaint filed over the need for a school-based mental health clinic.

Advocates traveled to the state Capitol in Hartford to mark one year since the complaint was filed with the State Board of Education, after an investigation found that the school board failed to meet the mental health needs of Killingly students by rejecting plans for the health center.

The complaint followed a 2021 survey by the nonprofit Southeastern Regional Action Council. It found that of 449 Killingly students, 14.7% seriously considered attempting suicide, while 18.2% reported they intentionally hurt themselves.

The Killingly Public Schools administration soon afterward partnered with Generations Family Health Center to bring on-site mental health services to students at Killingly High School at no cost, but the plan was rejected by the Killingly Board of Education, citing concerns about parental notice.

Generations said those concerns were unfounded because parental or guardian consent is required for all services, including medication prescriptions.

Julia Revellese, a former Killingly High School student, said she left Killingly because there weren’t any mental health resources for her when she was struggling. Revellese had to go to a magnet school nearby to get the help she needed.

“When you are mentally ill, being a student in a high school full of 800 students, it’s hard to even feel comfortable in class alone. So those who are struggling mentally= obviously are not learning how they should be,” Revellese said.

“And if the board’s ultimate goal is to invest in every student’s education, then neglecting their mental needs is not helping them receive an equitable education,” Revellese said.

Christine Rosati Randall, a parent and one of 50 people who signed the original complaint, said she’s concerned there is still a lack of adequate mental health services for students.

“If you’re sitting in the classroom, you can feel the anxiety in the room, and it affects everyone. If you go to the ladies room, they’re in there crying, they’re having their panic attacks in there.” Randall said. “Where else are they to go? Sometimes to the guidance office, but the guidance office can get overwhelmed pretty quickly.”

Being a mental health professional requires different training and credentials, according to Randall, who said some staff resigned because they were overwhelmed.

“They cited in their resignation letters that they were resigning because of the lack of support by the Killingly Board of Education and because of the lack of mental health resources. And that they had to do what was right for their own well-being,” Randall said.

Amélie VanderSwaagh, a senior at Killingly High School, said she went through a mental health crisis her freshman year and had to go to her guidance counselor for help.

“He couldn’t do much outside of school when I was struggling. He could only really be like, ‘Hey, if you need to come sit, you can come sit. Other than that, I really can’t do much for you,’” she said.

“And you could have a connection with a guidance counselor, you could have a connection with your teacher and go to them, but that’s not their job. It just really sucks because there’s no support,” VanderSwaagh said.

The Killingly school board and the Connecticut Department of Education could not be reached for comment, but they told the Norwich Bulletin that an investigation will start soon.

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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