It is unclear whether mental health care at his school would help Charlie Cournoye. Perhaps a professional could identify the early signs of his mental illness and intervene.
Then again, maybe not.
What is perfectly clear to his mother, Judy Cournoye, is that Killingly needs more mental health resources. And if her son’s death in 2009 can help other students get help, she wants to find a way to make it happen.
So despite fears that taking a position would hurt her business as a real estate agent, and genuine contempt for politics, she went to a Killingly Education Council meeting on May 25 to tell her story during a time reserved for the public. discussion.
As she spoke, she gently placed a black box of her son’s ashes next to her.
But she was not the only person with passionate views on mental health care at the school meeting. Soon after she spoke, the tension escalated and the meeting turned into a shout-out match.
For months, the city has been embroiled in a battle for what would be a grant-funded mental health clinic available at the high school. In March, a majority of the Republican Board of Education rejected the proposal.
Neither side is showing signs of movement.
Talks about the health center have been colored by political rhetoric – some have described their opponents as an angry mob, while others have raised concerns about gender identity and abortion. Some board members wondered if a mental health center would violate parental rights. The proposal of a member of the board of the Democratic Party to discuss the health center was rejected.
Meanwhile, the state has launched an investigation into whether the board violates the state’s educational interests. Civil servants are reviewing the information from lawyers, Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said at a State Council meeting on Wednesday.
The state’s decision could ultimately affect other school districts involved in such debates. This comes at a time when officials and advocates say there is a national mental health crisis and conservative parents and employees are pushing back against school-based mental health support such as social emotional training.
But on May 25, Killingly residents focused on their own city.
The story of Charlie Cournoye
Judy Cournotay talks to the board before the meeting gets worse.
Cournoyer said in an interview after the meeting that she began to notice small changes in her son during his junior year in high school. These small problems were built into full episodes and he was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
She remembers the night of his death at the age of 29 with painful details. He was moving around in the middle of an episode, trying to find his way home. They had talked on the phone, and finally she and her husband went to look for him.
His car accident was caused by his exhaustion, his parents later learned. Judy Cournotay remembers seeing a helicopter take off from the crash site and the hospital serving them juice and biscuits when they arrived.
She also remembers that her son lost too much blood to be an organ donor, something he always wanted to do. So if that little good couldn’t come from his death, she wanted to find something else.
They launched a scholarship fund for students pursuing a career in mental health or environmental science, a subject that Charlie has always been passionate about.
“You’re losing a son, what can you do?” She said. “You’re just trying to make something good out of him.”
Her presence at the board meeting in May was part of what she was doing “something good”, but although she was committed to the cause, she left the building feeling unheard of by board members.
“I just felt like I fell in love,” Cournoyet said of her testimony. “They’ve already decided.”
Cournoyer’s feelings reflect the sentiments of several others who protested and spoke at public rallies in favor of the health center: the city is in a stalemate. Tensions are rising and some of the disputes are becoming personal.
“People are getting angrier because they have poured out their hearts, presented facts and facts – at the end of the day it’s just a big ‘no’ without explanation,” said Christine Rosati Randall, a school health center advocate.
This was highlighted last Wednesday during a heated conversation between several members of the public and Kelly Martin, the newly appointed vice-chairman of the education council. Initially, Martin voted in favor of the health center, but then voted against proposals to return the issue again.
The meeting began to fail when Michelle Murphy, a Republican member of the city council, expressed concerns about the idea of a school health center. She had looked back and forth on the issue, but said she did not want therapists who had not been screened by their parents to talk to children.
She then read a list of what she said were headlines about cases of school counselors harassing children.
Later during the public consultation period, Nancy Grandelski, a local social worker and the wife of another city council member, objected to Murphy’s comments.
“This kind of intimidation tactics and crazy talk is the problem in this city,” she said. “And it has to stop.”
At the end of the public consultation period, Martin, vice-chairman of the board, said Grandelsky was cruel.
“I know Mrs. Murphy personally and I know she has tried many times to have pleasant conversations with you,” Martin told Grandelski. “She always agrees with both sides. She wants to be on both sides. And you were nothing but cruel to her. And I just want to let you know. Don’t look at me like that, you know as well as I do.
The meeting then erupted into chaos, with several members of the audience shouting. Grandelsky’s husband defended his wife, and Martin raised his voice against Grandelsky as Norm Ferron’s chair struck the hammer several times, telling people to sit down.
Martin apologized to his colleagues later during the meeting for losing his temper.
In an interview later, Grandelski said he thought it was inappropriate for a board member to personally call a member of the community, and said Murphy’s comments were offensive to therapists.
“When she talked about all the counselors who mistreated students, I just thought it was pretty outrageous,” Grandelski said. “For me, it was kind of a hint that the people at Killingly High School would do it with the kids there.
Reached by email, Murphy declined to comment on the story.
Commenting on an email Tuesday, Martin said he wanted to encourage a respectful discussion, especially for the children in the audience. Several students were present, some of whom spoke in support of the mental health center, while others were there to acknowledge their achievements in the robotics team.
“When mental health is a topic of conversation, talking badly about other people and trying to humiliate someone who has different opinions is counterproductive to the issue at hand,” Martin said in a statement. “It only serves to provoke more struggle and more division in the community.”
Members also voted to add Lora Dombkowski to the education council. Dombkowski has taken the vacant post left by the resignation of Janice Jolie, the former chairman. Norm Ferron, the former vice-president, was appointed new chairman a few weeks ago.
Dombkowski, a Republican, said in an interview that he was against the school health center, “as it appears.” But she said she was ready to bear the burden of controversy. She wanted to be more involved with her children, both of whom are students at Killingly schools.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I am fine.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-467-3135.