The Killingly board of education meeting in April.
The Killingly board of education meeting in April 2022. Yehyun Kim /

On May 1 of this year, an 18-year-old Killingly High School senior was killed in a single-car crash on Interstate 395 in Plainfield. According to Channel 3, the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.

On May 22, Kevin Marcoux, a much-loved and respected Killingly High School counselor, coach, and athletic director, announced he was leaving the school following a contract dispute with the Killingly Board of Education.

Then, on June 13, Killingly school Superintendent Robert Angeli announced that his contract was not being renewed by the Killingly School Board.

These events, occurring as they did in the midst of a pitched battle to obtain mental health support for Killingly students, serve to highlight the extraordinary degree of incompetence, callousness, ignorance, and misguided political fervor which has characterized this board’s actions over the past year-and-a-half.

These events also beg the question of why the Connecticut State Board of Education still has not initiated its inquiry into the actions of the Killingly Board of Education, which was scheduled to have been held back in January of this year.

It is, of course, impossible to know if a school-based health center could have prevented the 18-year-old’s suicide, but it is hard not to recall the former chairwoman of the Killingly Board of Education (in voting against that health center in April of 2022) questioning the results of a survey showing 14.8% of students in grades 7-12 had an active suicide plan: “How do you know they were honest responses?” “We’re dealing with kids. They could have written anything.” One wonders, too, about the “parental rights” of that 18-year-old’s parents and whether they had the “right” to expect that the school make counseling easily available.

Kevin Marcoux has taken a job at East Lyme High School after 21 years at Killingly where he coached the school’s golf team to a 209-24-3 record, 10 straight ECC Division Championships, and two state championships. Under Marcoux’s leadership, Killingly sports teams have won multiple state championships in football and wrestling, in addition to numerous league and local championships in other sports.

According to articles in the Norwich Bulletin, Marcoux had been performing two part-time jobs (Athletic Department Chair and School Counselor) and had been working to have his jobs incorporated as a single job since 2018. The Killingly School Board’s response to Marcoux’s resignation was to accuse him of “bullying” by demanding a decision about his job “within a matter of days,” despite the fact that this was a long-simmering issue dating back at least four years.

In addition, and almost certainly related, the Killingly Board had previously implied without evidence that Marcoux was responsible for a scoring table flashing images of the short-lived “Red Hawks” logo which had replaced the “Redmen” mascot. (Apparently, the scoring table had been flashing those images for three years, which might tell you just much interest the objecting members of the Killingly Board have taken in school activities.)

Robert Angeli announced his departure via a letter to his staff and community members and included a performance review based on an April 26 meeting of an “executive session” of the board to which he was not invited.

This review apparently formed the basis for non-renewal of his contract but is remarkable for two things: first, virtually every line contains misspellings, grammatical errors, and a strangely unprofessional and colloquial style; second, and more importantly, it lists 14 issues which the board felt Angeli did not handle to its satisfaction. Examples include, “team name issues,” “slow response to email,” “failure to know the majority of Killingly residents,” “failure to deal with vaping in the bathrooms,” “lack of attention to facilities issues,” “failure to invite (an anti-vax advocate) to public discussion about school-based mental health clinic,” “poor collaboration with the board,” “poor communication with the board,” etc.

There is, tellingly, not a word about educational policy, goals of learning, staff support, student well-being, or any of the things that one might reasonably expect to be included in such an evaluation.

Angeli responded to virtually all of these criticisms in a clear, articulate, restrained way, and included his responses with the letter announcing his departure. In those responses, he revealed the extraordinary pressure that the board had put him under to carry out its’ political agenda and, shockingly, that the board had requested (but was not given) access to students’ private disciplinary records as well as staff files and documents.

The battle for a school-based mental health center has been a battle focused almost solely on politics and not on the needs of students; there has been virtually no discussion at the board level of those needs. There have been board references to Hillary Clinton, abortion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and critical race theory; there has been the official censure of a board member based on a lie; board members have lied about why a proposed contract was rejected by a mental health provider, and there has been the blistering report on the board’s actions by the State Department of Education.

But, in late April, under obvious pressure but to its credit, the board finally announced an agreement with Windsor-based Community Health Resources, Inc. for a three-day-a week therapist to be based at the high school, but it is not clear if the company has been or will be able to successfully recruit for the position or if they will actually start on time in the fall. Particularly problematic is the fact that this provider stipulated in the contract that they would not see a student, even under emergency conditions, unless parental consent had been obtained.

Any rational (and non-political) review of the situation between the Killingly Board of Education and the Killingly schools would conclude there is something terribly wrong here.

As a retired ICU physician who cared over the years for many teenagers who had attempted or completed suicide, I have been utterly appalled at the lack of empathy and concern (or even interest in the educational mission) on the part of those board members who have been steadily resisting (until they were forced to) getting help for their students. To me it looks like educational malpractice.

And the big problem? These members can’t be recalled. They can do really crazy things and no one can do anything about it, that is, until the next election. In the meantime, the students suffer.

The only ray of hope was that the state inquiry would finally force answers on why the board has been behaving this way and make sure that the board actually carried through with the plan to bring in counselors in September. The inquiry (and any subsequent recommendations) would make sure that the issue of how to handle students in crisis who do not have parental consent to see the counselor is properly dealt with.

However, the inquiry is on hold after repeated sandbagging of the state board by the Killingly Board and its lawyer, Deborah Stevenson, a homeschooling true believer. I think it would be a big mistake to trust this board to do anything it says it will; its history of bad faith actions, the chaos and disarray manifested in the latest staff departures, and the sandbagging itself all make it quite obvious they are not to be trusted.

The Killingly Board of Education needs a chaperone, an adult in the room. Hold the inquiry now.

John Day M.D. is from Woodstock.