Face the Facts: Attorney Representing Killingly Families Talks About Fight Against School Board

Andrew Feinstein is the attorney representing families in Killingly in their fight against the school board, which rejected a proposed school-based healthcare center.

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Killingly students fought for a mental health clinic in their school due to increased reports of anxiety attacks among teenagers.

Even though it would be funded through grants, their proposal was voted down six to three by the local school board.

Now, some Killingly High School students and their parents are taking the case to the state, and possibly the courtroom.

NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with the attorney representing these families, Andrew Feinstein.

Mike Hydeck: So first, what reasons did the members of the school board give the families who are proposing the center, that would actually be paid for?

Andrew Feinstein: That's a very good question. There were statements made at various hearings concerning the fact that kids could talk to a counselor and reveal what was going on at home without parental consent. But that already exists. That exists. Students can talk to counselors in school, under the law, as children and youth can talk to a psychologist without reporting to the parents for six sessions. So that's really nothing that the school-based health center would change. But that reason was promoted. I really got the sense in reviewing what the folks in Killingly said, that their concern was that they thought schools ought to really stick to just the basics of reading and writing and ought not to be involved in dealing with the emotional and mental health of students.

Mike Hydeck: Were there any compromises offered by either side saying we can have parental consent under certain conditions? Or was it pretty much a standoff in your opinion?

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Andrew Feinstein: Parental consent is part of the mission of every school-based health center. In order for a student to access a school-based health center, at the beginning of the year, the parents have to sign a form saying my child can use the school-based health center. So parental consent's already there. In terms of compromises, once we filed our complaint with the State Department of Education, which was back in April, I think there were efforts to try to provide heightened social emotional support for kids in Killingly. And the board rejected those. The board has stood firm and has not funded any additional positions, has not brought in any alternative outside provider, has not dealt with this issue at all.

Mike Hydeck: Considering the anxiety that continues to be reported for students as they start their new school year, moving forward, if they don't have this as an option, where will these students go if they need some kind of social emotional help?

Andrew Feinstein: That is a big problem. Northeastern Connecticut just does not have the resources that say Fairfield County does to deal with mental health issues in kids. And long waiting lists, long commute times to get in to see somebody. And so that's a real issue. Now, of course, students can go to their teachers, to guidance counselors, to social workers in school. They don't really have the training to deal with acute mental health issues. But students with problems do have adults in the school system that they can talk to and from time immemorial have been talking to.

Mike Hydeck: There has been some reporting both in the Connecticut Mirror and other publications that this may be politically motivated. Regarding maybe certain topics that could be taught in these sessions, they're worried that they're going to be indoctrinated into a way of thinking as far as certain topics in school, whether it's sex education or critical race theory. Is that your opinion?

Andrew Feinstein: My view is there's this really a well-funded national group that's attacking public education. And like so many other things in American society, sex and race seem to be the big driving forces behind that. And so yeah, we hear concerns that the students are going to be taught about sexual acts or encouraged to engage in same sex relationships or that there's going to be a promotion of critical race theory through this. None of that is in fact the case. The school-based health center is a health clinic. And you know, it's not there to promote any particular view. But that fundamental issue of whether schools should be teaching tolerance, to treat other people as individuals to learn how to get along, to learn how to compromise are all things that schools in my view should be doing, and which these folks who are assaulting public education do not think schools should be doing.

Mike Hydeck: So the state Board of Education is investigating this now. Do you see this ending up in court eventually? Or do you believe the state Board of Education will be able to solve it?

Andrew Feinstein: No, the law is the state board will make a decision based on the recommendations from the Department of Education. We're expecting the report of the Department of Education and the recommendations to be made at the October meeting of the state board. And if the recommendations that are adopted by the State Board include directing the Killingly board to do something, then the Killingly board has rights under the Administrative Procedure Act to an administrative hearing of open public, full evidentiary hearing, cross examination, rules of evidence, all that sort of thing. And given the history to date of what the Killingly Board of Education has done, I would fully expect that if that's what happened, that if the state board does order corrective action, and I believe they will, that I do think that we'll end up in that sort of administrative hearing. After that, a party aggrieved by the administrative hearing, can go for judicial review of that administrative hearing, but that's on a very narrow grounds at that point.

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