Hartford Public Schools and City Officials Discuss Plans and Offer Resources for Families Following Student Tragedy

Hartford Public Schools and City Officials Discuss Plans and Offer Resources for Families Following Student Tragedy

HARTFORD, CONN. (January 19, 2022)  On Wednesday, Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez and Mayor Luke Bronin, along with leadership of the Board of Education and the City Council, provided an overview of resources provided to date and still available to students, parents and the community of the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy (SMSA) following the tragic loss of a student on Saturday.  The officials also discussed short and long-term plans to promote wellness as well as drug abuse and overdose prevention.

“I ask that everyone keep the family, friends, and the entire school community at SMSA in their thoughts and prayers. We are emotionally devastated by this painful loss,” said Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez. “We take very seriously the health and safety of all our students and staff. I want to thank our partners in the City of Hartford, state officials, and our local health and law enforcement partners for their support. We are working hand in hand with them, our staff, and administrators to ensure the well-being of our students and to safely return them to school. With care and in partnership, we will continue to support students, staff, and our families throughout this challenging time.”

“The loss of a young boy to an overdose has been painful for our whole community, and especially for his school community, and for those in need of counseling, emotional support, mental health or other services, resources have been and will remain available,” said Mayor Bronin. “Following this tragic incident, we want to ensure that staff at schools and community youth organizations have access to additional substance abuse awareness, mental health and other professional training services to help them promote student wellbeing. Although substance abuse is rare in the younger grades, we must explore age-appropriate enhancements to our curriculum and identify new grants to expand our mental health and substance abuse tools and programming.”

“The City Council is dedicated to ensuring that students, families, and schools have the resources they need to keep our kids protected, because no one should have to worry about their child’s safety at our schools,” said City Council President Maly D. Rosado. “I am committed to working with Mayor Bronin, Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez, the Board of Education, and community partners to expand access to awareness and prevention tools.”

“The board is devastated by this loss and we extend our sincerest condolences to the family and the SMSA community,” said Board of Education Vice Chair Shonta Browdy. “We stand in partnership with the Superintendent on our current and expanding work to support all of our students and staff.”

Support to the SMSA Community

On Monday, virtual meetings were held for SMSA parents/guardians and staff to provide updates on decontamination of the school building and an overview of substance awareness and prevention with local health experts from Connecticut Children’s and Hartford HealthCare. Since Friday, Hartford Public Schools’ Crisis Intervention Team invited all interested students and parents to meet with school social workers for free counseling. Clinical psychologists from Connecticut Children’s hospital were also available for students, families, and staff to offer emotional health support.

School social workers were available virtually on Tuesday for students, families and staff, and those with remaining questions or in need of assistance should not hesitate to contact the Welcome Center at (860) 695-8400. Additional support and care will remain available in later days to students and families who need it. Anyone seeking advice or help in supporting their child through grief and loss can click here for further resources.

Awareness and Prevention Efforts

Narcan/Naloxone

Hartford Public Schools (HPS) will supply Narcan to all schools in the district in the near future and the HPS Health Services Department will provide Narcan training sessions for HPS school nurses before the end of the week.

Expanding Mental Health/Prevention Services

In addition, the City and HPS will work together to expand mental health and wellness supports, as well as substance abuse and overdose prevention services for the school system and the community at large. At HPS, in partnership with SandyHook Promise, all middle and high school students will participate in the SaySomething training focused on ways in which to recognize warning signs their peers may exhibit, as well as ways students can share the information with a trusted adult. These trainings will occur between January 24th through 26th.  As a potential supplement to the existing middle and high school curriculum that covers drug and alcohol awareness, additional awareness resources differentiated for younger students will also be identified and recommended for adoption.

Awareness/Education for the HPS Community

Hartford Public Schools has partnered with Hartford Healthcare, Connecticut Children’s and the Hartford Police Department to provide professional learning opportunities and forums for school staff, community-based organizations, faith-based partners and families focused on:

  • substance and opioid identification, awareness and prevention
  • how to have behaviorally-appropriate conversations
  • how to support children and youth

This process began with the SMSA family meeting on Monday night and will continue on Wednesday in a virtual meeting with Hartford Public Schools’ community-based organizations and faith-based partners.

Awareness/Education for the Broader Community

The City of Hartford, through the Department of Children, Families, Youth and Recreation (DFCYR), the Health Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department, as well as external partners, will conduct a series of community trainings and workshops in the coming weeks, open to the public, focused on similar topics.

Training for Youth Service Providers

In September 2021, the Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation (DFCYR) hosted a workshop series for community-based organizations in Hartford who work with youth, focused on topics including youth mental health, substance abuse, trauma support, youth mentoring, COVID prevention and other health and wellness topics. Another workshop series is now being planned. The Department also plans to offer CPR, first aid and mental health training sessions to youth organizations’ staff before July.

Additionally, the Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation (DFCYR) plans to hold new rounds of training and professional development sessions that have been held before for the staff of youth organizations in Hartford, such as the opioid overdose prevention training session that has been held in the past together with the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition.

Through its partnership with the Local Prevention Council and North Hartford Triple Aim Collaborative, Hartford’s Department of Health and Human Services will be a part of prevention training for Out of School Time providers. The training will take place in the first quarter of 2022 and will focus on assisting providers recognize the needs of youth as recovery from the pandemic continues. Additionally, materials will be distributed to caregivers of middle schoolers through community based organizations to raise awareness about substance use.

Sharing Information About Existing Laws/Resources: 

City and school officials offered reminders about a few substance abuse and public health facts that all Hartford and Connecticut residents should be aware of:

  • The Good Samaritan Law provides that anyone who witnesses an overdose or is experiencing an overdose themselves can and should call 911 for emergency assistance without any fear of arrest for possession of drugs or paraphernalia. (Public Act 11-210)
  • Mobile Psychiatric Crisis Services for children are always available through 211 services. Dial 211, then press 1 and 1 again for a crisis clinician.