The Killingly board of education meeting in April.
The Killingly board of education meeting in April. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Killingly’s board of education chairman accused the state of trying to overturn a local vote and said officials were lying about why they were investigating the board’s actions in rejecting a school-based mental health clinic.

The state board Wednesday voted to hold an official inquiry, a rare move that will determine if Killingly violated the educational interests of the state. The Killingly board voted in March to reject the health clinic, and residents submitted a complaint to the state.

Killingly Board of Education Chair Norm Ferron said the state painted him and fellow board members as “modern day Ebenezer Scrooges, denying much needed help to our students for some nefarious reasons unknown to anyone.”

The decision to reject the clinic has been mired in political rhetoric for months. Killingly board members have cited concerns about parental consent over what is taught to their children.

Following the inquiry, the state can take actions to ensure the students in Killingly receive mental health services.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the state board of education, Mike McKeon, director of legal and governmental affairs for the Connecticut Department of Education, said the learning environment at Killingly has been harmed because of the unmet mental health needs of students.

Ferron’s statement asked for “an apology and a retraction” from McKeon. McKeon investigated the events in Killingly and presented the state’s report to the board Wednesday.

“I am absolutely outraged by the wild claims made today and I will not sit by and let it go unchallenged,” Ferron’s statement said. 

“Notwithstanding, of course, as always, I plan on cooperating fully with the state Board of Education, the Commissioner of Education, and their designates on this matter. In fact I relish the opportunity to set the record straight.”

“Imagine my surprise in hearing that the determination was that I had gone from a father and grandfather, someone who was investigated thoroughly and given a Top Secret special intelligence clearance by the US government, and a businessman with a reputation for professionalism and honesty, to a bold faced liar out to deny much needed mental health care to the students in the Killingly schools, including the children of other board members, my own great nephews and two of my grandchildren,” Ferron said in the statement.

Ferron said in an email he received the clearance as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army in Germany.

He also said state officials had lied about the intent of the investigation – that it aimed only to establish the health center at the school and that it was part of an effort to “disenfranchise” voters.

“I stand by every statement that I have made in regards to my actions and the board’s actions during this entire process and I defy anyone to prove me a liar about any of it,” Ferron’s statement said. “Let’s discuss an actual lie. The lie that this entire process wasn’t tainted from the beginning with a predetermined outcome and that it’s goal is to reverse a legal vote by duly elected board of education members in the town of Killingly.”

Eric Scoville, the state department of education’s spokesman, did not address Ferron’s claims.

“The Connecticut State Department of Education looks forward to continuing our work with the Killingly Board of Education to resolve this situation in the best interests of our students,” Scoville said in an emailed statement. “Our report and recommendation, approved by the State Board of Education yesterday, merely sets forth the extensively documented evidence uncovered during the investigation into this matter.”

Ferron said in a previous interview that he feared counselors would talk to kids about “controversial topics.”

“Basically, what is a stranger to the parents can be advising their child on any issue,” he said. “They might be giving them counseling directly opposed to the views of the parents.”

Many students and parents have spoken about the need for mental health care. A survey also showed the need for care in Killingly, with 66 students reporting that they’d seriously considered suicide.

Rep. Anne Dauphinais, R-Killingly, tweeted Wednesday about the decision in response to a Connecticut Mirror story.

“Having a mental health center in the school was supposed to be optional, now the state wants to force them to have one,” Dauphinais tweeted. Her husband and chairman of the Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots, Dale Dauphinais, has publicly spoken against the health center.

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Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter a Report for America corps member. She covers a range of topics, from education and child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021 and covered housing for Hearst Connecticut Media.