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With student suicides on the rise in Loudoun County, parents say school leaders lack compassion

Ann-Charlotte Robinson, mother of suicide victim Will. Courtesy Photo
Mental health professionals say compassion is vital in helping a child deal with suicidal thoughts. But several Loudoun County parents say compassion is lacking from local school leaders in charge of thousands of students, scores of whom are coping with depression and anxiety.

Loudoun County has seen a sharp rise in teen suicides over the past two years. In 2015, there was just one teenage suicide reported to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office. In 2016, there were five, and there have been at least three teen suicides thus far in 2017.

“You have to ask yourself: Why is Loudoun going through such an increase?” said Suzie Bartel, founder of the nonprofit support group We Are All Human and the mother of Ryan Bartel, a former Woodgrove High School student who killed himself in 2014.

Bartel and another Loudoun mother whose son killed himself, Ann-Charlotte Robinson, say they're not looking for anyone to blame -- they’re simply looking for solutions to the crisis.

“I didn’t want to blame [the school], but I wanted to say, ‘What can we do?’ We have to do better,” said Robinson.

The case of Jake Kotin

In December of last year, Stone Bridge High School freshman Jake Kotin hung himself at school. He died several days later.

Debbi Levine-Kotin, Jake’s mother, told the Times-Mirror she and her son did not receive sufficient care and support from Stone Bridge and LCPS before or after the incident.

According to Levine-Kotin, her son was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the final years of his life. While the mother had met one-on-one with a counselor and teachers since the summer before her son entered high school, Levine-Kotin said she consistenly felt a lack of compassion for her son’s struggles.

Last October, Jake was admitted to a mental care facility, where his depression and anxiety became manageable. Levine-Kotin said she thinks the improvement was because her son didn’t have to deal with school. Jake was released on Oct. 11, 2016.

Levine-Kotin said she emailed school officials about Jake’s situation while he was hospitalized and met with his teachers a week after he was discharged. After the student left the hospital, his mother said it took two months for him to be placed into an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) -- a program developed to help children who have a disability succeed in school and get the assistance they need.

On Dec. 14, 2016, Kotin was given a test by his gym teacher – a test his mother said he was not supposed to be given. After refusing to take the test, Kotin sat quietly staring at the floor and the teacher ignored him, according to the mother. The gym teacher later said it was because she was afraid of “setting him off,” even though Jake didn’t have a history of lashing out, Levine-Kotin added.

Left alone, Jake went into a hallway behind the gym and hung himself. He was kept on life support long enough so they could harvest his organs, and he died on Dec. 17, 2016.

After her son’s death, Levine-Kotin and her husband wanted to give $2,500 dollars to the school to help fund a suicide prevention program. They say they met with Matthew Wilburn, the Stone Bridge principal, Stacy Huffer, the assistant principal, and Tim Lucas, the head of counselling.

Before the group started talking about the donation, Levine-Kotin’s husband asked why his son was given a test he wasn't supposed to take. Levine-Kotin said this set off the principal, and Wilburn immediately started yelling at the parents.

“Do you think anyone knew he was suicidal?” Levine-Kotin said Wilburn shouted. “You came in here, and I hate to say it, but you came in here looking to blame. If you think this happened on purpose, no one in the building knew he was this at risk.”

Wayde Byard, public information officer for LCPS, said the school system “does not comment on statements made by students and/or families regarding their personal experiences and perceptions. All answers provided concerning processes and practices apply equally in all cases.”

As the meeting went on, Levine-Kotin said Wilburn placed blame on the parents, saying she should have filled out specific paperwork to get the information on her son’s learning plan. The mother said she was confused because she had emailed all of her son’s teachers constantly with updates on his mental health. Levine-Kotin was also under the impression it was the assistant principal's job to update the plan.

What Levine-Kotin felt the principal truly lacked was empathy. Wilburn seemed to make her son’s death about himself, the mother said.

“This is the worst day of my career,” said Wilburn, according to Levine-Kotin.

After that, Levine-Kotin had the principal take her to see where her son hung himself.

Jake is one of at least two students from Stone Bridge to have committed suicide in the past seven months.

Jake Kotin hung himself at Stone Bridge High School in December 2016. Courtesy Photo


Complaints brushed aside

Levine-Kotin took her complaint about the way she'd been addressed in the principal's office to LCPS administration. She met with Nereida Gonzalez-Sales, director of high school education for LCPS, and filed a formal complaint about Principal Wilburn.

In April, a month after her complaint was submitted, Levine-Kotin received a letter from LCPS saying the situation had been reviewed and “personnel action, if appropriate” would be taken. The letter went on, “privacy concerns prevent us from disclosing the specifics, if any.”

Levine-Kotin met again with Gonzalez-Sales and Cindy Ambrose, the former assistant superintendent for LCPS who recently relocated to South Carolina. Levine-Kotin said she does not believe her original complaint was sufficiently investigated, and Wilburn remained in his position with seemingly no sign of disciplinary action.

On May 31, following another conversation with Ambrose and Gonzalez-Sales, Levine-Kotin received a letter notifying her that Gonzalez-Sales and Ambrose had “followed up” with Wilburn. The letter stated “appropriate actions” were taken and both Levine-Kotin's verbal complaint and written complaint were closed.

Levine-Kotin told the Times-Mirror her concerns were pushed aside. She believes there's a lack of desire among the LCPS administration to reprimand principals. Levine-Kotin also questioned whether LCPS principals and some members of administration know how to appropriately and professionally discuss challenges with parents. The experience has left her looking for answers, she said, feeling like there's been “a lack of investigation.”

Levine-Kotin also provided LCPS with names and contact details of other families who believe they have been treated poorly by Wilburn in discussions about bullying and mental health.

“It appears from my perspective, and I could be wrong, that no one is taking our complaints seriously,” Levine-Kotin wrote to Gonzalez-Sales.

Only 24 hours after Jake’s suicide, according to Levine-Kotin, another student was given a test he was not supposed to get. The student reportedly ran out of the school, and the faculty neglected to alert the authorities about the absence, according to Levine-Kotin. When the parents and student went to meet the principal about the incident, Wilburn said, “You think you have anxiety? You’re just using this as a cop-out,” according to Levine-Kotin.

Levine-Kotin said the student transferred schools as a result.

Despite sending several emails to Superintendent Eric Williams, Levine-Kotin said she never received a response from the superintendent until June 29, when he called to offer a meeting for the next day since she wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of her complaint.

“He also finally expressed condolences,” Levine-Kotin said. “ I told him he was five months late on the condolences.”

Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams' condolences to a parent whose child committed suicide came "five months late," the parent said.


Principal power

Levine-Kotin is not alone in feeling her concerns about a principal's behavior have been ignored.

A Dominion High School parent who asked to remain anonymous because of fear over recriminations against her child at Dominion has spoken with the Times-Mirror over several months about similar concerns.

After her child missed lessons because of depression, the Dominion mother contacted school leaders to try to work out a plan for her child who was having “suicidal thoughts when in school.”

At first the school seemed supportive, suggesting a workflow table stating what homework was due and when. However, as the plan transpired, only one teacher was prepared to participate.

According to the Dominion mother, during a meeting with the school's principal, Dr. John Brewer, in November 2016, the principal said the teachers weren't going to prioritize the student's workload, and instead the student would have to prioritize catch-up work.

Brewer told the mother her child was “weak.”

The mother said, following the meeting, her child was in a dark place and she worried [the child] would commit suicide.

The mother filed a formal complaint against Brewer and also expressed her concern over Assistant Principal at Dominion Jamie Braxton's behavior toward her child.

The original complaint the mother submitted was phrased as “a pattern of discrimination, intimidation and harassment and a specific incident of child endangerment.” Dr. Virginia Patterson, director of school administration, redefined the complaint in a letter sent to the mother as "your child being harmed as a result of being escorted to the front office at Dominion High School.” Patterson was referring to a situation in which the student was pulled out of class to talk to the administration ahead of time despite the parent's pleading not to include the student.

The mother said the administration seemed to not grasp what the complaint entailed.

The letter from Patterson, dated March 2, indicated that LCPS considered the matter resolved.

The mother responded by contacting Superintendent Williams’ chief of staff, Dr. Michael Richards, to express her dissatisfaction over the complaints process, the lack of investigation and the lack of any visible disciplinary action involving Brewer related to her son’s case.

Richards has never replied to the Dominion mother, according to her.

Byard, the LCPS spokesman, said all complaints are taken seriously and handled as quickly as possible.

“We have a demonstrated commitment at the school and division level to identify satisfactory resolution to all complaints. Complaints that are sent to LCPS via the system are acknowledged upon receipt, he said. “Based on the nature of the complaint, a time frame towards a resolution of the issue is then provided to the parents or students.”

Problematic protocol

Although all high schools use the same suicide prevention strategies, it is up to the individual principal to give the green light for a school club focusing on improving mental health.

One program is We're All Human, a peer-to-peer support system to help students with depression and other problems. The club was set up by Suzie Bartel, whose son Ryan killed himself in October 2014.

Bartel said it's essentially up to the individual high school principal and not the administration whether they want to buy into the concept.

Ann-Charlotte Robinson, whose son Will killed himself, explained the stark contrast between protocol for sports injuries versus mental health challenges at LCPS. She noted there's an extensive process in the school system when it comes to treating a student after a football concussion, but there is no such protocol on how to treat a child who has been hospitalized for mental health problems once they return to school. Robinson said this baffled her.

Robinson said while the school had meetings about her son’s academic struggles, they never addressed his mental health.

“At no time was the school psychologist a recommended resource,” Robinson said. “Never.”

Several LCPS parents have claimed principals bypass a psychologist's recommendation when it comes to dealing with mental health, according to the Loudoun Education Alliance for Parents (LEAP).

According to LEAP, the School Board has determined that a principal and other school employees can use their own discretion as to whether they factor in a psychologist’s or psychiatrist's recommendation when dealing with children who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Instead, the principals can use their own judgment and can override a specific child’s psychiatrist's recommendations, LEAP parents said.

Byard disputed that claim, saying the principal always considers outside psychological evaluations.

The Dominion mother, a participant in LEAP, said the principal might consider the evaluations, but said in her experience and those of others the principal doesn’t always follow or implement specific, simple recommendations.

“I have spoken to members at all levels within the county about this and have checked with various state organizations, including the magistrate's office and the office of the attorney general. All have informed me that if a school principal or guidance counselor disregards a psychiatrist's advice and endangers a child, it is not a violation of LCPS policy, a crime, or even a matter to go into the violating staff member's personnel file,” the mother told the Times-Mirror.

“The only recourse a family has is a civil suit. Civil suits happen after the child has already been harmed, and no parent would pursue that route if something different could have been done to stop the tragedy. A district policy preventing school personnel from acting counter to a child's psychiatrist could reduce the number of teen suicides and suicide attempts in our county,” she added.

Changes afoot

Bartel said a major problem with LCPS is “it's a bureaucracy and things are slow.” However, she believes schools are doing a lot more now that the situation has become so dire.

“They are scrambling like crazy to find out what they can do,” she said.

It's a sentiment echoed by Robinson. “Schools are like super tankers,” she said. “It takes an enormous effort to turn things around.”

LCPS is bolstering its mental health staffing for the 2017-2018 school year, including eight social workers, eight school counselors, five psychologists and two student assistance specialists. Byard didn't comment on whether this move was related in any way to the rise in teenage suicides, but the spokesman referred to Superintendent Williams’ words in his 2018 budget presentation. Williams said staffing standards were being increased to “build on existing efforts to promote mental wellness and resiliency, increase early detection, provide social and emotional support and encourage help-seeking behavior and access to mental health treatment.”

This is in addition to the expansion of the school system’s Signs of Suicide (SOS) program. The program teaches students the signs of depression and suicide and the action steps to take if they encounter a situation that requires help from an adult. A screening protocol, the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale, has been adopted to better identify whether someone is at risk of suicide and the level of support needed.

The school system is also working to implement a “Sources of Strength” program introduced to LCPS by the Ryan Bartel Foundation. The program trains teams of peer leaders mentored by adult advisers to change peer social norms about seeking help. According to Suzie Bartel, two schools received the training last year, with three more signed up for the coming school year.

Can the new plans really make a difference in stemming the tide of teenage depression and suicide in Loudoun County? Will the policies have any impact on reducing the societal and academic culture that values grades and success over all else?

Among parents whose children have come up against mental health difficulties, there seems to be skepticism that much will change. Their biggest hope is that school administration and principals will show more empathy and compassion to struggling students.

“It’s such ignorance and denial that there is this moment in a child’s life that can’t be the most important thing,” said Robinson. “Maybe it just takes all these deaths for us to realize it.”


***

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is a free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information, and local resources. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Contact Amelia Heymann at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and Chantalle Edmunds at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Comments


I find it concerning that many of the posts talk about the schools responsibility for a child’s mental health and seem to ignore the child’s family. Mental health is complex and to suggest that the school system is solely to blame for a child’s mental health issues is simplistic and inaccurate. Parents don’t seem to want to take responsibility for their children and their children’s mental health. They seem to want to hand if over for the schools to deal with. I find that a dangerous road. The end of that road is being played out in England with Charlie Gard. His parents were not even permitted to take their own child from a hospital to die, the state there has taken such ownership over him that his parents have no more rights. My children are mine and not the schools or the states. I would never give my parental rights or responsibilities and hand them over for someone else to solve my child’s problems.
That said, is the school doing everything the should? I’m sure they are not and their transparency to tax payers and parents is dismal. Some have suggested that the school should be required to follow mental health professionals recommendations. I find that a bit problematic. The school has a responsibility to ALL the students, while the health professional is writing recommendations with only their client in mind. What is right for the child with mental health issues is not necessarily fair or practical for an institution that must care for the rights of hundreds of students.

I also have problems.


Sounds like a lot of people here are putting another hat on teacher’s heads…

Born and raised in this county.. unlike most.
Sterling, Seneca, and Potomac Falls…

We had bullying, drugs, parties, and a drunk High School Principal running the show.

You’re expecting a lot from school teachers and administrators.

He gave him a test he shouldn’t have? Wow, I wish things were like that when I was a kid. Worries me to see what kind of environment I’ll be enrolling my kids in soon.


Many years ago my daughter was bullied incessantly in her Elementary school. Meetings with the teacher and with the principal were totally unproductive. Changing schools for a year helped a little, but Middle school and High school were miserable years for her. She still suffers the effects of that abuse.


LoCo1, you sound like you are already freaking out about your child entering the school system. I can guarantee you it will not be good for you as you seem to expect way too much from the teachers. I’d strongly suggest private school for your young one. Public school teachers have some of the worst jobs- all they seem to do is take the blame for the failure or bad behavior of kids these days and the parents accept none of the blame. These parents undermine the teachers (and coaches, instructors, etc.) of their children by telling them they are right and the teacher is wrong. I’ll never forget the reaction of one of my children’s middle school teacher when she wrote to tell my wife and I that our child had been misbehaving in class. I wrote back immediately and said we will take care of it and apologized for my kid being a distraction in the classroom. Next, I talked with my child and made her go back to school the next day and apologize to the teacher. The teacher was shocked and called me to thank me. It was actually sad how surprised she was.
There is a transition from elementary school to middle school- all the hugs and babying from elementary school disappear in middle school and most parents can’t handle it but the fact is, life isn’t fair at times and kids need to understand that and they won’t always get everything they want.


I feel physically sick reading this article. My sincerest condolences to the parents who have lost their children and prayers to those who did not have the courage to intervene and stand for something bigger than themselves. My dad committed suicide when I was nine years old and I certainly had dark moments in high school. My counselor told me to rely upon my faith - though she told me she wasn’t supposed to say that. Thank God she did. While I expected more from her, like a suicide awareness support group, I was at least happy she told me to keep my faith. My own child is about to start 5th grade and can be anxious. The teachers have been amazing in helping him overcome his fears.  But what is in store for him in middle school? in high school? If LCPS will not take a hand in caring for our children, as they should, then I don’t know what to think or do. They are supposed to help raise the next generation. To make this world a better place. I feel like our children become just a number to them. Another faceless student who passes through their doors.  Sad.  Very sad… Mr. Williams, I implore you to act quickly. Suicide is not because people are weak.  There is a real genetic link and we have to help each other succeed through life. Give educators and students the tools to help them do so.


Ok, now that you all have had a chance to vent, the school board will promptly ignore your pleas, the administration will tell you they have it “under control” because they are the “professionals” in charge, and the school board can go back to holding the BOS hostage for bigger raises for their spouses while ending all objective measurement.

Nobody will show up to school board meetings.  Nobody will require the school board to be accountable so they won’t be.  And many folks who don’t read these papers may even vote for the same board who has ignored this problem and passed the buck on incompetent administrators (who condone sexual predator teachers and even bully themselves) in the next election.

The real answer, of course, is to force the school board to end the silence.  There should be stats released about the number and type of complaints and how many resulted in consequences regardless of what denier-in-chief Byard thinks.  The board could, in fact, legally release info on individual employee punishments, but at worst, they should release the stats.  Otherwise, we can have ZERO confidence in their oversight.  In fact, the board may not even currently know as the administrators tell them it’s none of their business.  Our board is simply incapable of managing this organization.  They must be constantly pressured to do the bare minimum.  What action will you take to force them to act?


The parents in this article weren’t expecting the schools to be halfway houses or mental institutions. The families profiled had sought help outside the school and were trying to get the school’s help in modifying their child’s school environment to help their child succeed. If your child is an insulin dependent diabetic, there is an expectation that the teachers know this and the signs that might indicate that a student needs help. Accommodations MUST be adhered to; the medical recommendations cannot be ignored because they place a burden on a teacher and the principal just doesn’t want to deal with it. Likewise with a physical disability. Mental health conditions deserve the same consideration. And Mr. Wilburn and Dr. Brewer - shame on them for their callous behavior toward parents and students. And Mr. Williams - calling the Kotin’s 5 months after their son’s death to express condolences and ignoring emails for months?  Truly?  Is it a coincidence that the call came not long after the details of Jake Kotin’s tragedy became more widely known in the community?  Glad We’re All Human is being embraced by at least some of our schools. Let’s now see if our principals and school admin can develop some sensitivity and compassion - that needs to change.


When will LCPS realize the need for a “ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY” to bullying which has been a root cause problem on the rise in our school system?  When will serious training and education of teachers and now principals and leadership be clearly defined?  This principal who treated these parents so poorly should be fired, period!  No excuse.  He is part of the problem in our school system. These parents deserve some explanation bu LCPS is so worried about litigation that these parents are left frustrated.  Heck, we get a more defined explanation by Wade Byard on why school is cancelled for 1 inch of snow than for prevention of such things as the LCPS antg-bullying program.  We celebrate the fact that we live in the “Richest County in America” yet we have leaders who demonstrate such poor judgement as this principal did blaming the parents and not proactively what could be done better to recognize children in need.  Get with it LCPS!


Whoa! Can we go back to what Sterling Parent said? Anyone notice that these suggestions are NOT ONLY are in the BEST INTEREST of our CHILDREN’S SAFETY, but they are also NOT DIFFICULT to put into place…THIS SUMMER?!!!!

Why are we hiring more psychologists as a band-aid for this IMPERATIVE, DIRE situation? We have thousands of kids in our school system! When these kids with depression have doctors, why are we choosing to ignore them and, instead, ask a school counselor???? Seriously!

Do we, as parents, want to place the onus and authority into the school’s hands when a CHILD is begging for HELP! Why?

If we continue this route, we know from past experience that SOME of these administrators and teachers will choose to view a depressed child as lazy or “weak”! (I find that so disgusting that I need to refrain myself from continuing down that path of discussion)

Inevitably, if we continue to have the Principals, teachers and counselors decide how families and children are treated by a case-by-case basis—- when a child gets depressed and they share possible suicidal thoughts with their families and the families ask the school for assistance and receive push-back, how will that child feel?

My guess would be “hopeless”, but I’m not a medical professional.

Help our kids.

Ask the school board to put Sterling’s ideas into place this summer!!!!!

“1. We do not need to train our principals or other school personnel to be mental health experts; instead, we need to *require them to defer to the child’s psychiatrist’s medical expertise while the child is on school premises - not to “consider it”, but to defer to it.

2. Rules like those that exist for integrating students with concussions back into the classroom should be created for children being treated for depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. This could happen before school begins in the fall if we borrowed neighboring school systems practices that are working for them. Rules can be improved over time, but not having them in place could be why our suicide and attempted suicide rates are some of the highest in the country.

3. Require schools to report when they are informed by a family that their child is being treated for depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts so that experts know how many there are and in which schools. Focused resources are probably necessary for some schools.

4. Investigate EVERY complaint filed when a child is under a psychiatrist’s care and anyone in the school is alleged to be endangering the child- before it is too late.”

When we attempt to answer this dire situation with the hiring of social workers, psychologists etc. when we have thousands of kids in our school system, we are merely continuing to brush their MEDICAL diagnosis under the rug and we are continuing to give more authority to principals to run the show however they please!

Why would we choose to give our school administrators and teachers the ability to override a medical diagnosis? Why is every school different and every child treated differently based solely on the discretion of how the Principal views the situation?

IT IS POSSIBLE TO HELP OUR CHILDREN TODAY by putting policies in place across the board that defer to medical professionals instead of the mood of the school.

HELP OUR KIDS!!!!


In reality there is only so much that can be done about bullying by the schools. Kids are not policed the entire time they are in the building - there are hallway, cafeteria and playground opportunities for bullies to inflict their damage out of earshot of teachers. Add to that social media platforms where the majority of this bullying occurs. How many parents can honestly say they know what their child is involved in online?

Let’s not forget the stress these kids are under simply by living in Loudoun County. The get the subtle message they HAVE to take AP and dual-enrollment courses in order to get into good colleges. Oh, and if those aren’t UVA or VA Tech, they are somehow “less” in the eyes of their community.  This “new” Loudoun judges by material success and our vulnerable teens are its victims.


    This article was an interesting read. The article for sure touches a taboo that has plagued many of us as Loudoun County students or former students. The taboo is not necessarily suicide but the pressure of academic perfection required of Loudoun County students. 

    This suicide is horrible, but the problem isn’t necessarily the educators, and they are not solely to blame in this situation. The real place where we should put our blame is with the system as a whole. This student they are referring to had no help with his problems at school because the teachers are forced to only care about their jobs in a system like Loudoun County Public Schools where educators are forced to have a strict standardized way of teaching. Instead of helping students learn they force them to focus on passing a test that ultimately did not assist me or many other former students get into college or even survive college life. If the school system were to change not only would graduation rates rise but so would college graduation rates, but it would also decrease the rate of self-harm among students feeling suffocated in this school environment, happier environments could mean happier students. As adults, fixing the system should be our primary objective.

    Okay, now on a different note; as a Stone Bridge Graduate let me make a comment on Principal Wilburn or Vice Principal Wilburn when I was there. This man is horrible, and he was a bully. I remember some students; myself included, felt like he was the predator of the halls. I may also say the students are not the only people who felt that way. I have heard from many former teachers that he would prey among them as well. It amazes me that the Loudoun County School system has allowed him to take the “coveted” position of Principal. However, even though I dislike him, he is not to blame for this child’s death. Yes, regrettably he had a tiny role in this situation. However, everyone in his life had a small role in his demise, and I feel that the parents are blaming him for this child’s death and this blame is unfounded. When in truth it was obviously numerous reasons. I am not one to stick of for an incompetent educator like Wilburn, but he isn’t at fault for this death. 

    My final thought on this subject is reform is necessary! If we allow this system to continue on the way it is going to get worse. Allow teachers to teach and care for their students instead of focusing on stupid tests that will not help them in the long run. 


Frankly, I think too many people want the school system to handle every one of their child’s problems. There are some people you simply cannot do enough for and those people will always gripe that the system failed them while never looking at themselves and asking what more they could have done. Personally, I’d like to hear the Stone Bridge Principal’s side of the story, all we got was one side, the side of someone who clearly was hurting and looking for answers that just weren’t there. Yes, the PE teacher made a horrible mistake by giving Jake a test he should not have had, and I’m sure that teacher feels awful about the whole situation. This was a terrible mistake, a miscommunication in a very rare and unimaginable situation. I agree with the Principal when he says a student’s death, on school grounds, is the worst day of his career, it would be for me too! The school is not to blame here, the teacher is not to blame, the parents are not to blame- sometimes someone is just sick and something terrible happens. It sounds to me like Jake would have found a way to end his life no matter where he was. Teachers should not be counted on to be psychiatrists, mental health professionals, etc. They are hired to educate children. Every time someone dies, people want to blame someone and sometimes there is no blame to go around.


Bird Turglr, what are you suggesting?  Is it acceptable that complaints against principals who yell at parents that a suicide is the “worst day” of the principal’s career are buried with no consequences?

Is it acceptable that principals are telling parents their kids are just “weak” when they are undergoing severe depression and complaints are ignored?  And that the principal has ultimate autonomy on how to handle the situation?

When I was in high school, a track coach thought a student-athlete was just being lazy when she complained about running in the heat.  That student dropped dead from a heart ailment.  Now some might say that the coach couldn’t have known just like teachers/principals can’t know what’s in a student’s head.  But why are they being called weak and goaded into these situations?  And why are there NEVER any consequences for horrible decisions made by LCPS administrators or teachers?  Why, we know that “99.51%” of them are “great”.

LCPS personnel need to understand there will be consequences for failure to follow procedures (suicide intervention) or for just plain indifference.  And the public needs to understand that the school board is the only individuals you can hold accountable.  The policy of never disclosing admonishments against employees has led LCPS to ignore/close all complaints without any punishment.  The school board needs to be held accountable for that policy (it can change overnight as there are NO laws against releasing that info) and it needs to start today.


First, my deepest condolences to the grieving families. I am so sorry for your loss, and for what I know you were dealing with in regard to the schools.
My child suffered a deep depression in 10th grade, and I was shocked by the disregard by the admin and teachers. You don’t need to be a trained psychologist - all that is needed is concern and compassion. Imagine for a minute what it’s like to be a parent of a child with depression - You are afraid to sleep at night, so you try to stay awake so that you can hear their every move. When you do fall asleep despite your best efforts your first thought when you awaken is, oh my God is my child still alive…and then you have to go into their room and check. Unlike a physical ailment, where family and friends form meal calendars and send flowers, there are no casseroles and no phone calls when your child is in the hospital for a mental illness. And then THE SCHOOL…a nightmare and no support, making a bad situation unbearable. One morning I called just asking someone to check on my child because I had a bad feeling in my gut. I was never the parent up at the school asking for this and demanding that - I would not ask this favor lightly. The school’s reply was unbelievable.  While I thought I had let everyone know the situation, it was obvious that they were uninformed and frankly had no idea of the danger - “Umm…what is the child’s name again? What do you want us to do?” with plenty of attitude.  When my child was released from the hospital and ok’d by the doctors to return to school, the make-up work was outrageous.  The gym teacher required a multi page written REPORT. And that was just one class…if a child were not suffering from depression, they would be after seeing the make-up work. No concessions were made. I wondered at the time if the child had a brain tumor if all this busy work would be required. When emailing the teachers, only one actually asked how my child was doing or sent any kind of well wishes.
If the schools really want to change, they should talk to the parents who have been through this. We could give them very specific ideas that would cost nothing and would require very little staff involvement. And it could potentially save many lives.


I’ve heard too many horror stories of parents dealing with not sympathetic administrations only looking to protect themselves. I witnessed a teacher blatantly bullying a student multiple times at Heritage High School this year. Brought it to the administration’s attention, had multiple meetings where the teacher continued to bully the student in the presence of the principal and no one stepped in from HS as an advocate for the student. It was a parent/student against the administration/teacher situation, and the administration always backed the teacher no matter how wrong the teacher was. The teacher received zero repercussions and will continue in their role at Heritage. Complete coverup! Whereas the student, if not for the strong parental support, certainly would have followed the path of suicide. ALL BECAUSE OF A TEACHERS BULLYING AND THE ADMINISTRATIONS COVERUPS!


Couldn’t agree with Sterling more. To add to it: schools, teachers and administrators can’t also be mental institutions, halfway houses, or psychologist, along with everything else people expect for our educators. I am not insensitive to the situation as I have had some very close people to me commit suicide. It is a horrible thing. Leave the treatment care and understanding to those who are trained and paid to do so.  Not our educators.


Yet another example of a lack of institutional control from LCPS. This story has been floating around for months and Williams finally responds on June 29th? I feel for the families involved and can’t imagine their pain. How many more horror stories are we going to experience under the Williams regime before our elected officials realize that he was a terrible hire and take action? This is just sad on so many fronts.


When the principal thinks he is justified in yelling at grieving parents who lost their son on his watch, we have a big problem. And to add insult to their indescribable pain, he had the audacity to say it was the worst day of HIS career? TO the parents of the young man who took his own life? Unbelievable! And another principal tells a mother that her depressed son is “weak?” I am heartbroken for these parents and kids, but sadly, I am not surprised. We’ve been there, too.

I’ve got 15 years worth of stories about how this school system covers up and protects their own. There is a lack of understanding about the seriousness of mental illness. LCPS often sees it as a behavior issue rather than a medical diagnosis. When my oldest was in 3rd grade, her therapist called to talk to her teacher to help explain what my child was going through. When we saw the therapist after the phone call, she told me that she had never in her career dealt with someone who flat out dismissed her diagnosis. The teacher, who had no psychological training, told the psychologist that she was wrong. This teacher went on to be a principal here in Loudoun County. I’m sure the depressed kids at her school get a lot of empathy. Did I report it? No. No need. The principal at that elementary school ran the show. We had already had a horrible experience with her. We were basically put in our place and our child got no support. That same teacher threw a tissue box at my daughter and told her to “Go sit in the hall and cry” when she was having a panic attack. No empathy at all.

My youngest didn’t fair any better there. Her anxiety was dismissed as something she could control. They just didn’t get it. Her depression and anxiety worsened and she missed a lot of school. When my husband & I met with them, we were repeatedly told that they could “handle” her panic attacks (even though it was obvious that they didn’t believe they were real.) The asst Principal actually said, “Just drive her up to the front of the school. I’ll get her out of the car! I’ve pulled a kid out before and put them in a wheelchair and rolled them into the school, screaming! HA! I can handle HER!” WOW.

It’s hard enough to deal with mental illness. Imagine doing it in a place where you are not believed. Imagine being forced to stay, when you are begging for them to call your mom. I asked if a child with diabetes would be told they could not call their mom if they were feeling bad. That was dismissed as a ridiculous comparison. And therein lies the problem. Mental illness is every bit as serious as diabetes or even cancer. They are all potentially fatal. Don’t think so? Ask the Kotins about that.


I think as parents and taxpayers, we have our priorities all wrong. We want meaningful communication with school leaders. But according to the school board’s “communications” committee, they want to produce more “feel good [propaganda] videos”.

Instead of using an expensive studio to develop such short films, we could fire the denier-in-chief Wayde Byard and hire some real change mgmt and compliance personnel.

As long as the administrators feel insulated from accountability because of this indifferent school board whose only priorities are giving their spouses raises and replacing real grades with “portfolio” fantasies, you will not see any changes.


While dealing with a similar diagnosis during my child’s years at Valley, I found Sue Ross and her administration helpful. They approved an online course for my daughter when a particular teacher would not participate in approved accommodations nor agree to a conference. It was a scary time and other than a few disapproving opinions from a secretary she was helped when we asked for it.


Myself and many from our elementary community in Sterling have spent over a year “working” with the administration regarding the complete lack of regard for the students from our principal.  The lack of concern for their students, families and faculty is unfathomable.  Except the principal is also a bonafide bully and puts even adults in very dangerous situations just to bully.  Over the course of the 16/17 school year, this principal had close to 40 (FORTY!! - this was validated by the Asst. Sup.) complaints and not a single one was resolved.  NOT ONE.  Some were regarding down right dangerous situations (think sandy hook type) which were not even priorities for this principal.  Not ONE complaint was addressed by administration with this person either and victims were often blamed for the principals lack of judgement. And the administrative supervisor for this principal specifically told one complainant - “I can guarantee you, the principal is not going anywhere”. Forty complaints in 6 months and not going anywhere.  LCPS is a nightmare.  @Loudountimes…there are so many more follow up stories to this topic you could write just in our school alone.


This is a tragic situation. Some things can be implemented quickly that could make a big difference.

1. We do not need to train our principals or other school personnel to be mental health experts; instead, we need to *require them to defer to the child’s psychiatrist’s medical expertise while the child is on school premises - not to “consider it”, but to defer to it.

2. Rules like that those that exist for integrating students with concussions back into the classroom should be created for children being treated for depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. This could happen before school begins in the fall if we borrowed neighboring school systems practices that are working for them. Rules can be improved over time, but not having them in place could be why our suicide and attempted suicide rates are some of the highest in the country.

3. Require schools to report when they are informed by a family that their child is being treated for depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts so that experts know how many there are and in which schools. Focused resources are probably necessary for some schools.

4. Investigate EVERY complaint filed when a child is under a psychiatrist’s care and anyone in the school is alleged to be endangering the child- before it is too late. Focus our tax dollars on preventing identified risks rather than attorney costs to fight these poor families’ civil suits.

Do others have additional ideas?


They are more concerned with sending the truant officer after students like these who are not on IEP and should be rather than work with them. They absolutely lack any compassion whatsoever. I’ve actually witnessed it myself over the last 5 years and was disgusted about it. They even went so far as to take the parents to court. Now the kids are successfully completing the IEP courses and are doing very well. They too were suffering from anxiety and depression and could not handle the classroom environment. It wasn’t until the court got involved that any sort of compassion was shown at all for the kids instead of the constant threats from LCPS.


IF THIS IS REALLY TRUE, LCPS, is 100% at fault!  If the teacher was afraid (I assume she’s just gas lighting) now because of her guilt of being part of the reason a child killed himself.
 
“On Dec. 14, 2016, Kotin was given a test by his gym teacher – a test his mother said he was not supposed to be given. After refusing to take the test, Kotin sat quietly staring at the floor and the teacher ignored him, according to the mother. The gym teacher later said it was because she was afraid of “setting him off,” even though Jake didn’t have a history of lashing out, Levine-Kotin added. Left alone, Jake went into a hallway behind the gym and hung himself. He was kept on life support long enough so they could harvest his organs, and he died on Dec. 17, 2016.”

How horrible.  After he had just got out of rehab???  Teachers and administrators are completely oblivious to what children with mental and “at home” issues” and many times they are part of the problem.  They bully, they degrade and they ignore.  That poor child.  Our tax dollars at work.  To worried about immigration and not about our most precious things.  Our children.


The administrative staff are trained educators and not trained mental health professionals.  Perhaps an MHP in each school or area of schools would great assist.  I would rather an MHP than a turf field.

IN regard to the after the fact meeting, these meeting are useless. I don’t blame the admin or the parents but society in general.  The first react is usually to blame someone else followed by a lawsuit.  So I can understand admin clamming up after the fact. 

We have to come to a common solution for the safety of our kids.


There’s so much bullying in Loudoun schools. I’m not sure why the teachers and administrators are completely oblivious to it. My child comes home every day upset, I really don’t think the administration cares at all. I definitely fear my child is at risk of suicide and I have no idea what to do about it.


school leaders are more interested in dress codes, passing the trash, boundary changes, and raises…they don’t have time to be burdened with bullying, teen suicide, and academic achievement…


Byard said there was a “demonstrated commitment   ... to identify satisfactory resolution to all complatints”.  Demonstrated to whom, the little fairy sitting on the LCPS admins’ shoulders?

Byard also claims that a “principal always considers outside psychological evaluations”.  Sounds like Brewer certainly did that in calling a child “weak”.

In World War I, PTSD wasn’t understood well.  Soldiers who were shell-shocked and refused to go back to the front were summarily executed as a deterrent to others.  There is a difference in a lazy student and one who is under great anxiety.  It appears that many principals/admins don’t understand the difference and there is little/no concern among top administrators about that problem.

As always, the answer is to change direction at the top during the school board elections of 2019.


It’s been my experience that some principals think they know much more about students and how to deal with them than they actually do. The principals think they’re doing a great job, when in fact, they are greatly mistaken.

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