Yes, you read the headline correctly…And yes, this is one you’ll need to sit down for.
Calling it part of a their plan to implement, “An Enhanced Support Model to Promote Mental and Behavioral Wellness among Students in the Avon Public Schools,” the Avon Board of Education recently voted to eliminate all social workers from that community’s prestigious public school system.
Gone are the four specially trained school social workers, a couple of whom have been providing critically important mental health services to Avon’s students for decades.
Apparently the social workers’ vital work will fall to others to perform.
However, thanks to the quick action of an outraged group of concerned parents and other citizens, Avon’s Board of Education is being forced to hold a special public hearing on July 1, 2015 at 7 pm in the Avon High School Auditorium in order, “To consider a citizen’s petition to reinstate the position of social works in the Avon School system.”
Avon was once considered a model community for attending to all of various complex and inter-connected aspects of a child’s development and education.
In fact, just two years ago, Avon was leading the charge in the post Newtown, Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre.
At the time, Avon’s new “Futures Report,” called for placing even greater emphasis on student mental health through an “Increased focus on early intervening services” and the use of a “multi-tiered intervention model” to ensure that all students were getting the support and services they needed and deserved.
But that was then and this is now and something terribly wrong has apparently occurred since then.
Just last December, Gary Mala, Avon’s Superintendent of Schools was providing the members of the Avon Board of Education with his monthly update, including the latest news about the progress of the school system’s new Wellness Curriculum.
As the minutes reveal, in response to a question from a Board of Education member, Superintendent Gary Mala,
“Added that it is also important to consider the mental health of our students and help staff learn to identify and refer students where needed.”
Then, as the December 3, 2014 minutes report,
“[Superintendent Mala] added there is no liability if the school fails to property identify those needs.”
In response to the discussion, Avon Board of Education member Ames Shea weighed in,
“Ms. Shea asked the Board to exercise caution; she stated we should not be the “board of everything.” She does not want our school system to become a mental health resource.”
The minutes go on to report that Board of Education member Jeff Bernetich agreed.
Six months later, in a fancy PowerPoint presentation, Avon’s Director of Pupil Personnel laid out the administration’s new plan to “enhance” mental health services by doing away with the school social workers altogether.
Superintendent Mala’s team explained that although their plan eliminates two social workers at Avon High School, it “Casts a larger net in order to identify students who may be experiencing academic or emotional distress as the result of changes being instituted at Avon High School.”
In a logic that is more than a bit hard to follow, their plan added that eliminating all four social works in the Avon School System, the new system addressed the need for, “Greater demands for accountability and documentation of student progress.”
The Avon plan also, “Provides more comprehensive approaches to intervening with students across all district schools” and ensures for the, “Ability to intervene with students earlier in the process and to provide support within least restrictive settings.”
Finally, the plan, they say, is needed, “To respond to increased demands for Functional Behavioral Assessments, Ecological Assessments, and Behavior Support Plans.”
Those familiar with the Common Core and the Common Core Testing scheme will notice that the language and rationale seems eerily similar to the jargon being used by the education reform industry.
With apparently little to no substantive discussion, the Avon Board of Education took the advice and voted to do away with the school system’s social workers.
The list of questions as to why such an action would be taken seems endless.
It was just a few months ago that the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission submitted their final report.
Reacting to both the unspeakable horror of the Sandy Hook Massacre and the broader recognition about the need to improve mental health services, the Sandy Hook Commission laid out a detailed set of recommendations that are diametrically opposed to the actions taken by Avon’s Board of Education.
While Avon voted to remove the number and breadth of professionally trained mental health experts, the Sandy Hook Commission recommended that there was an urgent need to dramatically increase the availability of mental health services, especially for Connecticut’ children.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission explained;
“Schools are essential players…both as sites for prevention, early intervention and the delivery of services and as learning communities where social and emotional health come to be seen as essential to the process of educating young members of a just and caring society.” (Page 82-83)
The Commission observed;
“Children exist within multiple social systems, and their needs can’t be isolated from those of the systems in which they function. Schools in particular must be understood as integral to their communities; what happens at school directly impacts the surrounding community and what happens in the community affects its schools and their occupants. Schools must play a critical role in fostering health child development and healthy communities.” (Page 99)
And the Commission added;
“Schools should work with all providers to enhance community resources and augment services available in schools. For many children schools offer the only real possibility for accessing services, so districts should increase the availability of school guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and other school health and behavioral health professionals during and after school…”
The Sandy Hook Commission’s list of recommendations about the importance of school-based mental health services go on and on and on.
Hopefully Avon’s Superintendent of Schools and the members of the Avon Board of Education will listen very carefully to the citizens who speak out at the special Board of Education hearing on July 1, 2015 and will then take immediate action to reinstate the social workers that they just dumped.
And if Avon’s elected and appointed officials fail to act, then they should step aside and allow truly dedicated people to take their positions.