The Conn. hearing.  on mental health services in Killingly schools continues
The Conn. hearing.  on mental health services in Killingly schools continues

On Tuesday, it was Kathleen Cote’s turn to testify at the Killingly Board of Education’s 10-4b hearing. Cote, the former director of Mental Health, Student Health and Family Engagement at Killingly Public Schools, took the stand for the fourth day of the hearing.

The 10-4b complaint was filed by parents in Killingly who allege the school district did not do enough for students’ mental health.

Cote testified that the previous Board of Education’s rejection of a student mental health center affected the attitudes and behavior of the Killingly High School administration in a way that prevented it from doing its job effectively. Cote also expressed support for the student health services that currently exist in middle and high schools.

Attorney Michael McKeon, representing the state board of education, questioned Cote, as did attorney Andrew Feinstein, representing concerned citizens, and attorney Patrick Noonan, the district’s new legal representative.

Cote expressed support for the health center

Cote left the district in February 2024 to run his own private practice as a licensed professional counselor. She began the practice in November 2023 while working for Killingly Public Schools. Cote said she left the area because she didn’t feel supported enough, didn’t have the influence she wanted and her private practice was busy.

Cote joined the Killingly School District in 2021 after serving in numerous educational roles throughout the state, including principal of Norwich Free Academy Alternative High School for nine years.

Robert Angeli was superintendent when she was first hired as director of student services. Both come from districts that have student health centers, so they’re rooting for Killingly, Cote said.

Angeli requested a grant for a school health center, which was denied by the board. Angeli’s three-year superintendent contract was not renewed by the Killingly Board of Education at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Cote respects the Killingly Board of Education, but “when I started in the district, the Board of Education behaved in a way that I found appalling,” and that affected building administrators at Killingly High School.

At one point, Killingly High School administrators asked her to leave a meeting with school counselors held shortly after a student’s death, she said.

“I had to do this, but I felt like I couldn’t,” she said.

Cote said he has no doubt that people tried to do the best for the students, but people don’t agree on what the best thing is.

Conserve public health resources

Although the original proposal would have been with Generations Family Health Centers for Killingly Public Schools, a reputable organization, the district should stay with Community Health Resources (CHR), Cote said.

Cote testified that she and others began working with CHR before the start of the current school year. CHR is professional and flexible in its work with the district and strives to increase the number of days it can serve high school students.

Continuity of care is also important. Some students already saw CHR for mental health services, so families moved services to the school.

CHR is expected to expand services to all Killingly Public Schools.

Killingly Public Schools has many of its own certified and licensed mental health professionals who must remain the “guide” in student mental health decision-making.

“We have a lot of people in the field with a lot of experience,” she said.

How the board got here

In April 2022, a 10-4b complaint was filed with the State Board of Education by parents in Killingly. The complaint was filed because the Killingly Board of Education denied grant funding to Generations Family Health to start a school mental health center.

The first appeal hearing was held on November 15, 2023. Subsequent hearings were held on November 30 and December 13. The January hearing was postponed as the Killingly Board of Education requested new legal representation.

The school board preferred the Community Health Center (CHC) to work with them because of better online reviews and a requirement for parental involvement. CHC backed out and the Killingly Board of Education worked with Community Health Resources for the same reasons, then-Vice Chair Kelly Martin said at the first hearing.

Superintendent Susan Nash-Ditzel testified at the first hearing that the district provides for students’ mental health needs, including bullying and truancy prevention programs.

Nash-Dietzel was also questioned about the Board of Education’s response to a Southeast Regional Action Council survey. Conducted in December 2021, 449 students were surveyed and 28% of respondents reported thoughts of self-harm, 18.2% of students had intentionally hurt themselves, and 14.7% had seriously considered a suicide attempt. The board formed an ad hoc committee in September 2022, and the board did not meet with it specifically about the results of the study.

Killingly did the research to better tailor school services to students’ needs. The survey also asks about students’ access to and use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. Counseling, vaping programs and others have been used to address the needs, Nash-Dietzel said.

next steps

The next hearing is scheduled for April 16. After the hearing, Cote, Noonan and Nash-Dietzel declined The Bulletin’s request for further comment.

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