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Parents address suicide policy

School board stands by suicide policy but promises to seek out best practices


August 22, 2019

Supported by a group of community members, Jess and Doug Donnell addressed the school board on Monday evening to encourage more communication about the issue of teen suicide and a rethink on the district’s new policy regarding suicide prevention.

The Donnells, who lost their son, Josh, to suicide earlier this summer, feel the policy is discriminatory against children with mental health issues. Specifically, the couple takes issue with statements included in the policy that “students who experience serious depression are unable to benefit fully from the educational program of the school” and “pose a danger both to self and possibly to others”.

Jess told the board that her son was diagnosed with depression in 2015 but still benefited from his education. Doug echoed this thought, pointing out that a policy is intended to be guidance on what the district should do; what, he asked, can be done with that policy?

Doug asked what the policy would require be done with a kid who fit the description.

“You should get rid of them, right? Before they hurt themselves or others,” he said, stating that he wished he had known there was “no need” for Josh to be in school.

Jess spoke to the federal guidelines in Section 504, part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires that the needs of a child with a limiting mental or physical impairment be met as adequately as the needs of non-disabled children.

There used to be a time when we thought a deaf child or a kid in a wheelchair could not benefit from an education, either, Jess said.

“I wish I had known what a 504 was supposed to be four years ago,” she said, referring to the time of her son’s diagnosis with depression. She also pointed to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and suggested that following these policies could make a difference to teen suicides and attempted suicides in this county.

Jess also spoke to the community’s approach to suicide in general.

“Not talking about it isn’t the way to handle this,” she said, telling the board that she is in contact with a number of her son’s friends through his Instagram account.

Those kids know their friend is gone and how he died, she said. His death cannot be simply swept under the rug in the hopes that his peers will forget.

Reminding the board that Wyoming sits at third in the nation in terms of suicide numbers per capita, Jess stated that she is aware of a number of thankfully unsuccessful suicide attempts among the county’s young people. Nor were they all unsuccessful, she pointed out.

“Two in seven months is just crazy and I really don’t want to see any more,” she said. This is a problem that cannot be ignored, she told the board, and needs to be addressed proactively.

Jess applauded the board for introducing Rachel’s Challenge, a program based around kindness and developing relationships between teachers and students.

The board will stand by its new suicide prevention policy, said acting chairman Rick Gill after thanking the Donnells for their attendance, expressing appreciation for their interest in the business of the district and offering the board’s condolences for their loss. The policy came directly from the Wyoming School Board Association, he said; however, the board will continue to seek out and incorporate best practices regarding suicide prevention.


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