CLINTON — The town is making plans to strengthen its mental health and special education services at the Morgan School in response to an increase in student need for support.
At a Board of Education meeting on Monday, Superintendent Maryann O’Donnell said that the partnership with the Wheeler Clinic, a community health center that also runs a program for school districts, would allow the district to strengthen the special services program they already offer at the high school rather than having to place students in programs outside the district.
“If we don’t take this step, there’s a likelihood that we’re going to overwhelm our school resources, and we’ll still have to look at out-of-district placements,” O’Donnell said at the meeting.
O’Donnell told CT Examiner that she believed the program could allow students who would otherwise have to be placed outside of the district to remain at the Morgan school. Currently, the district has 11 high-school-age students in outplacement programs. O’Donnell said the average per student cost was between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.
Kim Pearce, director of special services for the district, said at the meeting that increasing services for students has been something they wanted to do for years. Chronic absenteeism and a need to increase graduation rates, she said, were concerns that existed before the pandemic.
Currently, the school has two special education teachers that work in the school’s two student support centers, a paraeducator who divides time between classrooms, a school psychologist and a social worker. The Wheeler program would staff one of the classrooms with one special education teacher and a full-time clinician. The program would also provide a supervisor.
O’Donnell said the plan would free up the district psychologist and the social worker to focus on the rest of the students in the school. Right now, she said, they spend a third of their time working with about 13 students served in the school’s two Student Support Centers. O’Donnell estimated that each support center would serve between 6 and 12 students next year.
O’Donnell said that she’d seen an increase in student needs for therapeutic counseling, which the program would address, along with providing services to families. The program will also train district staff in trauma-informed strategies and behavioral intervention techniques that they can continue to use even if the program is phased out later on.
The administrators said at the board meeting that they had looked into other programs, but that they chose Wheeler because of its willingness to be collaborative and integrate into the “fabric” of the school. Rather than remaining siloed from the rest of the school, the program would help students with special needs eventually transition into general education classes.
O’Donnell said that the program would be funded by federal grants. She estimated the cost at around $300,000 for two years. O’Donnell said that the district would have to evaluate whether they wanted to continue with the program after the grant money was used up.
Clinton is receiving $1.735 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act and $772,944 in ESSER II funds.