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MORE: Parents ask Loudoun County school leaders for a plan to prevent student suicides

About 50 parents, students and community members showed up to a Loudoun County School Board meeting Aug. 9 to ask school leaders for a plan to prevent the rising number of student suicides.

Last school year at least five Loudoun County Public School students committed suicide. Parents of Jay Gallagher, a Potomac Falls High School student who took his own life, garnered attention from the community after creating a Facebook page that suggested a counselor knew the student was at risk and did nothing to prevent it. 

The parents who showed up to the School Board meeting aimed to raise awareness about teen suicide and to seek answers about the school system's prevention protocols.

“The comment we have heard most is ‘there were no signs.’ Sadly, we have learned there were signs observed by one of Jay's friends,” reads a post on the Facebook page Love + Jay. “She followed the school system's ACT [Acknowledge-Care-Tell] protocol and sent an email to the school counselor about her concerns. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. We have a copy of the email exchange between them.”

Many of the parents who spoke at the School Board meeting have children attending Potomac Falls. The school lost two students to suicide last school year.

“The ACT technique teaches students to seek help from a trusted adult,” said April Redman, mother of two Potomac Falls students. “What happens when a student does tell a counselor? What are the procedures?”

Parents also asked the board why LCPS guidelines for suicide prevention were removed from where they used to be posted on the school system's website.

“Like many parents I went online to see the school guidelines [on suicide prevention],” said Beth Barts. “I was relieved to find a 25-page document with intervention, screening and action plans. But in the summer the documents were removed. In its place is a three-page brochure with out any details.”

Dr. Eric Williams, superintendent of LCPS, spoke immediately after the parents voiced their concerns.

“I appreciate the interest in mental health in community. There were some important issues raised,” he said. “I wanted to make the community aware there is no reason that document shouldn’t be posted. It was perhaps my misunderstanding that it was posted. If it’s not it will be.”

Tim Gallagher, father of Jay Gallagher, told the Times-Mirror Aug. 10 he and his wife have been comforted by the outpouring of support they've received, including the group that showed up to the School Board meeting to ask for answers.

“We were pleased to hear Superintendent Williams [say] the LCPS suicide prevention guidelines, that had previously been removed, will be re-posted to the Loudoun County Public School site very soon so that the parents of students in the LCPS system will know how their children will be protected,” he said.

LCPS released a statement last month about a possible legal battle with the family.

“Loudoun County Public Schools mourns the loss of Jay Gallagher along with the entire community,” the release noted. “For the past several months, the family has been represented by a lawyer, who has given the school division notice of a potential claim. LCPS has been in confidential communication with this lawyer, to whom information has been provided. Loudoun County Public Schools is not at liberty to share additional information regarding this pending legal matter.”

Editor's note: The Times-Mirror does not singularly report on suicides and only uses the names of minors lost to suicide after receiving permission from family.

Comments


Tim - my condolences for the loss of your son. Based on Katy, he sounded like a great kid. I don’t wish to add fuel to a sensitive subject, but just want to LCPS system to realize that although many teens (and adults) ultimately resort to suicide, many don’t just opt to end their own lives and vie for options b, c, d, or f. The other options have all been highlighted by those deciding to create mayhem within their school, drive the wrong way down the interstate, die while engaging the police, etc. Should a kid opt for mayhem, what is the moral, ethical and financial culpability, and impact on the local and extended communities, for remaining silent?!? I don’t suspect that Tim engaged an Attorney for financial gain, as that doesn’t seem to fit his apparent personality, but trying to get answers and help others seems to be the motives, which is refreshing (thanks for the technical aspects SGP)....


SGP - agreed that this is about school accountability and protocols.  It is not about PISA like you attempted to include


The fact that parents are looking to the school system to raise the red flag on this tells you all you need to know about the state of parenting these days. Almost as though they accept no responsibility for the welfare of their children. Get off your butts Loudoun parents, and get your kids off the couch, off social media, and TEACH THEM THE RIGHT VALUES and some self worth. Any parent who can’t see signs of suicide is FAILING THEIR CHILDREN.


With all due respect, this is an issue that involves everyone in the community. I’m extremely saddened by LCPS’s lack of response to the family who lost their son to suicide last year. (And to the person who suggested parents get their kids off of social media, the young man who died was a shining star - advancing towards attending UVA, president of an engineering club at school which he created, along with many other talents). The family, at.the.very.least - deserves to know what happened when the school was informed their child had expressed thoughts about suicide and why they were not contacted. That is first and foremost. But secondly, the community deserves an answer and an honest, open discussion about the suicide prevention plans within the schools, what went wrong in the process, and what can be done to avoid similar tragedies in the future. Please do the right thing, LCPS. Please give this family some small bit of peace.


I Agree with SterlingLocal 100%.

Social media is a toxic influence, especially for teenagers.


Callme, this is about the violation of Virginia statute 22.1-272.1 regarding the responsibility of school officials to contact the parents of a student at risk of suicide.  LCPS employees failed to do that.

That action was codified in LCPS’ suicide plan.  LCPS employees failed to follow LCPS policy.

Rather than give the family answers, LCPS stonewalled them blaming the family’s hiring of an attorney for why they couldn’t talk (nonsense as orgs are represented all the time and have discussions with public agencies).

To top it all off, LCPS deleted the suicide policy from its website when the family linked to it on Facebook.  I merely mentioned that this unethical behavior by LCPS is consistent with their prior actions.  And, of course, then they lie about it.

Until citizens hold LCSB accountable, nothing will ever change!


Parents, talk to your children, get them off social media.  there is your plan.


SGP = this time you are over the top with your shameful hijacking of an article.  Give the topic some respect.  This is not about the irrelevant PISA testing or you conspiracy theories.  Stop making everything about you.


Here are the facts.  Virginia law requires school employees to inform parents when they become aware a student has mentioned taking their life.  LCPS’ suicide prevention plan for its employees mandated parents be told as well to comply with the law.

When the family’s Facebook page referenced it online, the document mysteriously disappeared from LCPS’ website.  The family posted it using a dropbox account but the school has not restored the document on its official site.

Shortly thereafter, LCPS put out a press release with some nonsense about not being able to comment because the family retained an attorney.  That attorney then publicly denied LCPS had provided the answers LCPS claimed it sent the family.

Tonight, Supt Williams shockingly claimed “he had no idea” the document had been removed.  This is a pattern folks:

1. On April 23, 2015, Supt Williams claimed he had no knowledge that an LCPS briefing presented to the school board showing students believed their teachers didn’t really care about their well being had been removed from the LCPS website.  Within weeks, LCPS exempted 27 documents from emails to/from Williams discussing just that topic.

2. This past year, LCPS completely removed the results of the PISA tests showing LCPS students underperformed similar students from around the country and world.  LCPS had even hosted a mid-Atlantic PISA conference in May 2015 but now the documents have been suppressed.

3. And now the suicide prevention plan just coincidentally goes missing when Facebook discussion become heated.

Does anyone believe Williams or the fellow school board members who claim they had “no idea”?  When will citizens demand ethical politicians.


With all due respect, this should primarily be the parents’ (and the student’s family’s) job.

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