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UPDATE: Loudoun School Board member’s email on suicide and mental health dumbfounds observers

School Board member Tom Marshall represents the Leesburg District.
Update: Sept. 21, 9:51 p.m.

School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) commented Thursday on his email exchange with Matthew Heim, saying he apologized for the insensitive comments he made to the former Loudoun County Public Schools student.

"I have e-mailed an apology to Matthew and he called me," Marshall said in an email to the Times-Mirror. "I thought that we had a productive conversation. I made some valid point but the manner by which I delivered them was totally insensitive. As a former guidance counselor, I have worked with students, who need someone who will listen to them about issues they are facing, some as serious as those that face Matthew and no one individual has all the answers. It is a very serious problem facing our society and mistakes will be made on the way and I certainly made one by over-reacting to a young man'[s] late night e-mail."

Marshall said he hopes to meet with Heim and discuss ideas on "how we can improve things."


Original story: Sept. 20, 9:27 p.m.

A former Loudoun County Public Schools student says he's stunned by the harsh language used by School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) in response to an email he sent Marshall and other elected officials questioning how the school system deals with students at risk of suicide.

Matthew Heim, now a student at West Virginia University, wrote to Marshall about his struggles with depression, proceeding to claim Loudoun County Public Schools cares only “about liability” and “saving face.”

Heim sent his email to a number of recipients, including Loudoun County School Board members and members of the Board of Supervisors. The email, along with Marshall's response, has been widely shared on social media.

In the email, Heim asks why students are turning to opiates and suicide when the county has some of the highest test scores and best economic backgrounds in the U.S.

“Why doesn't it stop? Why don't you care?” he asks.

“Loudoun County Public Schools care about liability … care about themselves … They've stripped away any humanity in the face of insurance and bureaucracy because it's a little easier to swallow another child's suicide when the only thing you see is paperwork,” Heim said. “ ... In high school I wasn't a person. I was a number, a rank, a grade, and nothing more than a body in a seat.”

Heim praised the “handful of teachers” who touched his life, going on to claim “their hands are tied by paperwork and red tape."

He says, "Your teachers, your nurses, your coaches, and your janitors are on the front line out there helping kids while everyone else just watches the statistics climb.”

The email ends with the words “Fix this.”

Marshall replied: “My first reaction to your tirade was that you are full of it, but it is obvious that you are hurting and want to lash out at something or someone.”

He went on to state Heim had complicated his issues by taking high stakes courses that added stress to his life.

Heim told the Times-Mirror he couldn't believe the reply he received.

“At first I was just baffled that a response like that could come from someone with a background in counseling and responsible for 80,000 students, but it was the same type of backlash faced by others throughout the community regardless of their involvement with the school system,” Heim said. “There aren't factions when it comes to helping the community and wanting to prevent suicide, so I just want to know where does this us versus them mentality come from. I truly believe that everyone wants to work on this together, and I know that Tom Marshall wants to help, but what happens when you're also given a response like this [is] that shows the exact mentality that many people, including me, want to finally change.”

He also said he was insulted by Marshall “personally questioning my family.”

In his reply, Marshall asked why Heim hadn't mentioned his family giving him support and asked, “When did you or your parents reach out to the school?”

In his email, Marshall also conceded the School Board is concerned about liability. “Yes we are concerned about liability because people never want to take responsibility for what they could have done, but they do want to place blame,” he said.

Heim's email also refers to the death of Jake Kotin, who took his own life on school grounds at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, concluding, “because of your red tape and sheer ignorance a child is dead.”

Jake Kotin's mother, Debbi Levine-Kotin, said she doesn't know Heim and came across his email on The Real Housewives of Loudoun County's Facebook page. She told the Times-Mirror she was absolutely shocked by Marshall's reply.

“I think his response was appalling and is a demonstration of the issues within our school system from the top down. I have found that the teachers are typically more responsive than administration,” Levine-Kotin said. “Clearly when administrators respond the way Tom Marshall -- a former counselor in the Fairfax system -- has, people show their true colors. We have found this to be more than true with our situation and the lack of action taken.”

Another social media observer noted, “What kind of person could read that student's email and think what he replied was ok? Certainly not someone who should have anything to do with educating our kids.”

Marshall and School Board Chairman Jeff Morse, who was included in the email from Marshall, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

--

Here is Marshall's full email to Heim:

"My first reaction to your tirade was that you are full of it, but it is obvious that you are hurting and want to lash out at something or someone. You contradicted yourself by indicating that there were teachers and others in the school system who gave you support. Oddly, you never mentioned family. You also complicated your issues by taking high stakes courses that had to add stress to your life. When did you or your parents reach out to the school or provide information about mental issues you were facing? When did you ask us to partner with you and your family. Yes, we are large. 80,000 plus students and 90 school buildings? LCPS' School Board has added mental illness staff to be available to those who will ask for assistance. Yes we are concerned about liability because people never want to take responsibility for what they could have done, but they do want to place blame.

I don't think there are many employees who feel that we abuse them or they would go elsewhere. We provide them with better benefits than most private industry would and we are very competitive with our salaries compared to other jurisdictions.

I hope you will be a better advocate for what you need to be successful and stop with blame game. We are doing more to help, so you do more to get the help you may need.

Tom Marshall LCSB"


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Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @ChantalleNews.

Comments


Is that an apology?  This guy is just dumb.


Tom Marshall is correct.


This one is so easy: just don’t vote for this idiot again. If you re-elect this board, you deserve what you get!


It is not the schools job to be everything to every student.  Kid are to be taught in a safe environment, period.  It is this do all to or for all attitude that has a system focused on the wrong areas.

Now about Marshall, he is only a Democrat.  He can not be expected to do anything other then support the system over those whom he and the “system” are suppose to serve.  I have contacted him and either gotten no response or he says the “system” tried hard.  In other words we are to accept short comings by educators because they mean well and try hard.  But it is really the same for all levels of government.  Well meaning is good enough over a well done job.  Very sad! 

Admit it right now you government supporters, workers and contractor are saying to yourself “people just don’t understand what we have to work with…” or something to that effect.  Wake up! No one ever has everything they need to produce required results, and excuses are not allowed.  Well meaning is not a job well done! Leesburg you will never get citizen representation from Marshall.  He is here to represent the SYSTEM!


Has anyone noticed the recommendations that the Loudoun Educational Alliance for Parents made to LCPS and the school board last week about this very issue??? See last week’s editorial “Light in the Shadows” recommendations for suicide prevention for schools!


So let’s put the attitude of LCPS in context.  We know that LCPS has its own video studio to make feel-good propaganda.  They couldn’t create a single post on their website/FB page to direct parents how to report school bus issues but created videos boasting about how folks hands got numb from “high-fiving” on the the first day of school.  I kid you not.

Now, I’ve learned that when the Loudoun Educational Alliance of Parents (LEAP) hosted their seminar on mental health for Sep 2017, Wayde Byard refused to record the presentation so those not in attendance could view it online.  Let me repeat.  Wayde Byard and his $1M+/yr PR budget “didn’t have the staff” to record a presentation about a pressing problem with LCPS students that could help dozens of families.  Does anybody believe Byard diddn’t really have staff record it (seems like LCPS recorded the LEAP town hall where Randall got into trouble for censoring FB comments) or maybe Byard didn’t want other taxpayers/families to view the Q&A portion of the meeting this year where parents get ample time to ask real questions of LCPS staff.  Why aren’t all the MSAAC/SEAC/LEAP meetings recorded and posted online?

Let there be no doubt that LCPS is not interested in solving this problem.  They are only interested in covering up their mistakes and dodging any potential liability.


As a former school board member (8 years proudly representing Ashburn) this issue makes me sad. We have a billion dollar budget, many executive level salaries, 10,000 plus employees basically working less than 180 days per year with minimal accountability for ANY employee to INSURE EVERY CHILD is cared for from their entry on a bus to their arrival home after school. Which employees have been held accountable for bullying that takes place in their presence? An 80,000 student population should not be used to justify salaries and budgets while leaders obfuscate from responsibility for EVERY STUDENT THEY REPRESENT. The School Board has the sobering responsibility to hold ALL EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTABLE via how the board manages the Superintendent NOT to fill their web pages with gratuitous selfies, promote results they haven’t personally caused to happen or even brag about the status of LCPS but rather be proud of the planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling of the Superintendent and how THAT IMPROVED LCPS. No child should feel isolated, threatened, fearful or anything but supported when under LCPS jurisdiction and finally homework that should have been covered in class is an abuse to the child/parent environment that is needed and should be stopped or at least better managed!
Bob O__ Esq.


One has to wonder, since Mr. Marshall has a counseling background, whether any of his patients survived. His response reeks of the condescension towards LCPS students and parents that pervades the administration building.


it would be nice to see the kids letter instead of this one sided article.  After reading the comments it seems everyone is blaming the school for not raising their kids.  Maybe start by not giving your kids cell phones in elementary school and eliminate Facebook and the rest of the social media   If you can’t see the warning signs that your child is having problems in school.  Don’t expect the school system to do your job.  If your child is having social or mental issues you should be on top of that as well.  Unless you plan on requiring teachers to have PhDs and pay them for such training.  The school system is designed to provide a education not a day care or mental health clinic. Raising a child is a full time job stop blaming everyone else for poor child rearing


CousinSam continues on the accountability avoidance tour for LCPS. Please explain which of these actions cost more money:

1. Having teachers follow IEPs (e.g. not testing a student they agreed not to test)

2. Being transparent (e.g. not removing the district suicide prevention policy from the website or telling grieving parents what actually happened)

3. Admitting LCPS made some mistakes and that it is imperative on all employees to do better

4. Apologizing to parents when the school did not follow its own policies instead of telling the parents it was the worst day of a principal’s life

I simply fail to see how shilling for more money in a district with a 15:1 student/teacher ratio (not 30+ as “Sam” would have you believe) is at all relevant to this discussion on responsibility. We are not even talking about going above and beyond but just simple things like following policies and speaking up for kids getting bullied. I guess for some that can only happen if LCPA extorts more money (but we all know they would have even more excuses then). As I told Hornberger a long time ago, quit digging as the hole is already deep enough. Instead, get a heart and a soul.


Who are the “social media observers”.  To me that means any nitwit that reads Facebook.  That is not a thing and this whole article is just scandalmongering. Yes, there are serious issues around suicide but if you want to place blame then the school system is only about 10% culpable at the maximum.

Sorry, but the cold hard facts are that the parents need to stay in tune with their kids. Until taxpayers pay to get class sizes way down into the twenties per teacher then the time that they have for individual students is minimal.  I’ve not met a teacher that didn’t care but I’ve met a hell of a lot that were truly overworked and just trying to do the best for the majority of the kids. 

Some of you are spouting off about how kids are unsupported and how uncaring the administrators are but you’ll also be the first to vote against taxes to fund the programs that may be needed. Teaching is a very hard job despite your prejudices to deny that fact.  Finger pointing after a tragedy is easy but when you point at someone for criticism there are several fingers pointing back at yourself.  If you care so much about this issue, get trained on suicide prevention and volunteer at the schools.


Matthew Heim is but one of countless former secondary school students dissed in many ways by our school systems.  There is much we don’t know about this.  Obviously; Matthew felt hurt and left out and felt the only way to deal with this was to do the school equivalent of writing one’s Congressman.  Where Tom Marshall failed miserably was how he dealt with this.  Background in counseling?  Really?  How about “Hi Matthew.  I got your email.  I’d like to talk to you about it.  Here’s my office number:_____.  Please feel free to call me.”  It doesn’t take much to show you care.  It really doesn’t…


The school wants to run every aspect of the lives of our children—- teach them sexuality, teach them politics, teach them anything and everything.  Then, when it comes to suicide and mental health issues (to which they have tremendous influence and set the culture of the schools), they want to blame the child and the family.  I believe children and families should have much more choice in what and how the child learns.  If online courses work better for your child, take that route.  Test out of classes.  If sports are not your thing, that is OK too.  LCPS is a dysfunctional bureaucracy filled with top administrators that are control freaks, looking to satisfy their own ego.  Shame on Tom Marshall.  He obviously needs a basic course on empathy, something the school purports to teach.  His resignation is in order.


I wasn’t going to comment on this but feel compelled to make a few points.

1. Heim mentioned the suicide of Jake Kotin in his letter.  From the events discussed on prior articles, the PE teacher administered a test to a student whose IEP stated he was not to be given tests.  Then, the boy sat alone, isolated, with nobody approaching him.  It had to be clear that the student was triggered by the test and possibly his fear of how he might perform.  Forget the rules and IEP, to allow anybody to sit there all by themselves without anybody reaching out to show some compassion is inhumane.  Period.  Then, the school and LCPS clams up and refuses to accept accountability.  I’m not saying LCPS “murdered” the student.  I’m simply saying LCPS cannot be trusted to have its teachers follow agreed upon rules.  And they seem to dismiss the notion that this is widespread.  The Stone Bridge principal then notes it’s the “worst day of his life”.  Maybe that was because he couldn’t be bothered to conduct appropriate training.  The Navy recently experienced the “worst days” in many CO’s lives where their sailors were killed because those CO’s had not properly trained their crews.  We don’t feel sorry for the CO’s because they didn’t do their jobs just like this principal and teacher did not do theirs. To be honest, I hope the sight of that boy, left all alone, follows these two the rest of their lives.

2. I have mentioned this before.  In the military, when something goes wrong, everybody admits every possible mistake they made.  You are dressed down.  This is done to PREVENT future mistakes.  Here, LCPS hides all evidence from everyone involved.  The LCPS student suicide procedure is removed from the website.  LCPS refuses to tell parents of students of suicide what really happened.  The military has spent untold amounts of money trying to help their soldiers from traumatic diseases.  They leave no stone unturned.  LCPS ducks and hides.  They have a moral duty to tell the parents what happened.  To say we did NOT follow our own procedures.  LCPS simply will not do this.  They claim to be “protecting taxpayer” liability. I say, as a taxpayer, admit fault and accept accountability.  Most of these parents would accept true changes and transparency by LCPS.  The courts will decide if monetary liability should follow.  But the main reason any of these cases go to trial is because of LCPS subterfuge.

3. Lastly, an analogy for the commenters who I often agree with but whose comments I cannot support on this issue.  The brain is a complex organ.  Read some psych books if you want to learn how abnormalities can cause unbelievable behavior.  But let’s suppose that instead of students, we were talking about combat veterans who returned from war.  We know that, through no fault of their own, many experience traumatic syndromes that can be triggered by simple stimuli.  If, after being told specifically what not to do with these veterans, one of our gov’t officials carelessly triggered one of our veterans to commit suicide, would we tell the veteran and his family members they need to look at the actions of his family or to stop being so sensitive/coddled?  Of course not.  Families don’t have endless resources to pay for private schools.  Many of these kids’ brains are compromised, at least for a period of time.  These kids don’t need a 1:1 assistant walking around all day.  They just need teachers to follow some basic rules.  Rules that the school has agreed to follow.  But for a PE teacher to think “he knows best” and “kids don’t need to be coddled” and to abandon a kid sitting all alone so he might learn to be tougher is malpractice, pure and simple.  Just as it would be to treat a soldier going through traumatic stress syndrome.  Just be a human.  And stop trying to avoid your role in these tragedies.

Has anyone representing LCPS ever come out and said “yes, we have made mistakes”?  No.  Has anyone come out and said we have a serious training issue where our own employees don’t follow rules?  No.  Students are in school for more waking hours than they are with their families.  Let me repeat, students are in school for more waking hours than they are with their families.  Responsible administrators would take on some responsibility.  It appears we are completely devoid such leaders.


Disappointing on the response but as a parent of several kids that have been educated in LCPS. I believe the school has been proactive recently in reaching out to the kids but as parents we need to take on this responsibility. If your child’s behavior has changed and you noticed something, its time to take action. Find your child a therapist. As parents, we have the responsibility of being our child’s advocate to the school and to the necessary help. We can hold the school system responsible for that job.


Arbie, you nailed it. This kind of response from an elected official is in poor taste, but is absolutely shameful for someone with a counseling background.


I second what Arbie said. Mr. Marshall is a grown man and should have responded in a professional, not personal manner. His response was unprofessional and did not help the student in any way.


Marshall is not fit for public office and needs to seriously reexamine whether he should continue his tenure on the Board.  A kid has the temerity to acknowledge he has issues and indicates that the LCPS is not doing everything it can do and gets raked over the coal—by someone who is supposed to be an advocate and representative. 

Let me speak up in support of Mr. Heim—and like him I will cite personal experience in the form of my kid who was bullied to be point of needing counselling at Eagle Ridge some years ago.  The bully was never reprimanded but my child was—over and over again it was strongly suggested that my child was exaggerating, unstable, outright lying, and in need of medication.  Like Mr. Heim, my child overcame this and is now a university student.  Also, I suspect like Mr. Heim’s parents,(and much to the chagrin apparently of Mr. Marshall) I spent countless hours in meetings and devoted a huge amount of personal resources to getting through all this.

Also, like Mr. Heim, there were some real heroes in the LCPS who went to bat for my kid and were there when they were needed the most.  This is not, though, the contradiction that Marshall claims…in fact it is entirely consistent.  The fact that both Mr. Heim and I consider these folks heroes ought to indicate that the LCPS rhetoric on this issue is window dressing, and that go along to get along, don’t rock the boat, and blame the accuser are still the order of business here.

In fact, Mr. Marshall just amply demonstrated that blame the accuser still rules in Loudoun—and he has just empowered every LCPS employee to treat this issue with the disdain he has just articulated.


Marshall’s response was completely out of line.  From what is mentioned in the article, it does sound like the student may have gone a little overboard in his accusations, but it’s Marshall’s job to respond with grace and not in a knee-jerk fashion. You don’t get to hurl insults back and blame the student for his problems—you take a gracious approach.  All Marshall really had to do was offer a pro forma statement that he’s sorry for the kid’s suffering, how it is indeed so important that kids have the resources they need, that the school system is continuing efforts to strengthen and improve those resources, etc.  You respond with sympathy, not trumpian blowhard off-the-cuff insults. Especially when dealing with someone you know is struggling with mental health issues.  You don’t let your ego inflate itself to such a point that you feel personally threatened by a harsh letter from a young person.  Grow up, Marshall—let the unfair parts roll off your back and be the better person.  Or is that really just too much to ask for these days?


The actions of Tom Marshall is inexcusable.  Without the disclosure of this, we would never have seen just how incompetent, or worse, sadistic, Tom Marshall really is.  A poster below called for his resignation, and I agree.  If the School Board does nothing on this, than we all should question what exactly is the attitude the school board members have toward the students they all claimed to care about.


I hate to say it, but I am not at all offended by Marshall’s response. Heim did lash out, his email is full of sarcastic comments, finger pointing and placing blame and Marshall took offense and responded honestly. The part in Marshall’s response about Heim taking “high stakes courses” was unnecessary, but the rest was fine with me. Mr. Heim could have written an email that seemed like it was written by an adult, not a petulant child. It is rare for me to side with this board, but in this case I do.


While Heim may have been rude and disrespectful as others have stated here, I personally have not seen his letter, I would not expect such a response from a true professional. In the position I’m in I get many rude and disrespectful letters and emails.  If I responded in kind I would first be proving them right and second I would be out of a job.  Professionalism is what you are paid for, no response would have been better than Marshall’s response.


I’m going to have to say that I agree with Tom Marshall. He definitely could have responded in a more sympathetic way, but so many people place blame on others, or act as the victim. What they need is to take a step back and re-evaluate themselves and take responsibility for their own lives - in all functions of their lives. The school system is there to provide education, not babysit every kid who has a problem. With that being said, they do provide education on suicide, depression, etc. My friend is a high school director of counseling and she deals with this every day. I feel that parents need to be more involved in their children’s lives. Talk with them about what’s going on, discuss real life issues - don’t shield them from reality. Be open with them about the hard topics. Talk with them about their feelings, how to manage stress. I just had this conversation with my 10 year old because I want him to know he can come to us when he’s down. I pray that he never feels so alone that he contemplates suicide. So many parents just send their kids off to school hoping that the school administrators, etc will “raise” their kids. I’m sure I sound pretty harsh, but this suicide thing is becoming cumbersome. Life is worth living no matter how dark it seems.


Another fool the Leesburg populace put in an elected position…


Not surprised that LCSB is so out of touch. Unfortunately, the “blame the student” mentality is quite pervasive across LCPS. The LCPS admin building is chock full of doctoral and masters’ degrees, but they are basically working in an echo chamber inside an ivory tower that they rarely venture out from.

Sadly, Tom Marshall’s views are widely shared in LCSB and LCPS. Otherwise, he wouldn’t feel like his response was out of line.

My opinion? I think it’s disgusting that someone with his background holds such views, and ought to be on the unemployment line. Wonder if he’ll need to get in touch with a suicide hotline then? If there’s any justice, they’ll place him on hold to the tune of Van Halen’s “Jump.”


Marshall is partly right, too many people want to blame the schools whenever there’s a suicide or other mental health problem. Could’ve phrased it a little better, though. BTW, judging from his back to school night video, I think Marshall’s a little weird.


I’ve lived in Loudoun for close to 30 years, and school Board has been AWOL on many issues and giving Super/Chiefs in Loudoun a blank check for many extras that weren’t needed/priority. This issue, transportation and many others still exist….But we have smart boards in every classroom and full day kindergarten in a county that is always at the top in scores,graduation rates and seniors getting scholarship money based on academics…..


Kinda hard to fairly judge the response without the original email from the college student.


“because of your red tape and sheer ignorance a child is dead.”

This is an absolutely unfair accusation.  To blame a suicide on one person far removed from the situation is vitriolic and ignorant.  I think that when an official receives such a hateful letter then they should not be expected to be polite and kind in response.

This is LTM trying again to stir the up the drama.  Yes, this is an important issue that should be addressed but the initial letter was rude, unfair, and disrespectful.  If you want a respectful reply you should start with a respect conversation.

I don’t really see anything wrong about the reply except that is perhaps overly blunt to a person making a hurtful allegation.


At the very least Marshall needs to be officially censored, reprimanded, and counseled.  The School Board needs to come down hard on this fool.  What an out of touch idiot.


What an absolute buffoon!  Given the board’s response to the bus fiasco, they’ll probably give him a commendation for being responsive to his constituents.  The lack of leadership and commitment to the county’s students is surpassed only by the school systems efforts to dodge phone calls and deflect blame. Total management nightmare.

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