Taxpayers Express Doubt of Northwell Health Partnership At School Board Meeting

At the mostly peaceful recent in-person board meeting on March 8, 2022, concerns were expressed regarding the Smithtown Central School District’s partnership with Northwell Health for their mental health partnership. These concerns ranged from the doubt of Northwell’s competency at treating diseases to the increased control over children’s lives in schools.

The Northwell Health partnership will provide a dedicated behavioral health center within the Smithtown district and linkage of such services in schools. School staff would also receive professional development courses regarding mental health. This partnership would cost $95,850 per year for the district. 

Multiple speakers, who mostly remained anonymous during the meeting due to the suspension of the name disclosure requirement of the Board due to safety concerns, mentioned that there were no other vendors considered publicly for the partnership. One speaker mentioned that partnerships with SUNY Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, NYU Langone Children’s Hospital, and Catholic Health System services should be considered. This speaker also stated that as SUNY Stony Brook is funded by the State of New York, the Smithtown Schools might be able to receive these services at no cost, as opposed to the $95,850 per year for the Northwell partnership. However, these partnerships would be researched further by the Board if they were to be considered. 

This speaker suggested that the partnership have an “open, competitive bid and be awarded to the provider that can fulfill the requested services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.” She also stated that most such partnerships use such a method for appointing providers.

After the lengthy speech, Board President Mr. Matthew Gribbin asked Superintendent Dr. Mark Secaur why only one provider was considered, unlike the selection process for architects and other service providers, where there is a bidding process. Dr. Secaur responded that Northwell Health was the only provider that provided the level of services that was desired for students. Dr. Secaur also mentioned that he did not know of any other providers that provided school mental health services and have a “track record” with other school districts. He also stated that Northwell was quite well received by other schools. Board members also mentioned that other providers, should they appear, would be considered for the 2023-2024 school year before renewing the partnership with Northwell. Some members suggested reaching out to Stony Brook and Langone within the next two weeks.

The next speaker in public participation mentioned that the public never had a chance to ask questions to Northwell in a public forum. Even though she acknowledged the importance of mental health, she also expressed concern about having corporate entities in schools. She also expressed concern regarding the trend of schools assuming roles “traditionally reserved for the parent and the home.”  She stated that the partnership threatened “parents’ inalienable rights to make decisions concerning the care and control of their children.” She also showed concern that no other vendors were considered for the partnership.

The board responded to these accusations by describing the benefits the partnership would provide to students who are in mental health crises. The board stated that the partnership would provide important assistance for vulnerable students.                                                                                      

Another speaker accused the Board of rushing to vote on the Northwell contract without parent feedback. She also speculated that the District may cause healthy students to be evaluated to receive a discount from Northwell. Other speakers also mentioned the want of parental choice for social-emotional health treatment.

One extremely concerned parent stated that Northwell Health provided an incorrect diagnosis for her child. She said that when her nephew went to a Northwell emergency room for a lump in his throat, he was given antibiotics – it was actually cancer. Therefore, she expressed dissent to the partnership by the district.

At two prior board meetings, Northwell Health presented their proposal for a partnership with the Smithtown schools to establish a dedicated “behavioral health center” for the district. They also suggested that they would offer professional development opportunities. Professional development for teachers is also a controversial issue in Smithtown.

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