Loudoun Parents Sue School Counselor Over Son’s Suicide

The parents of a Loudoun County teen who took his own life in February are suing the school counselor who was warned that the student was considering suicide.

Jay Gallagher, an outgoing senior at Potomac Falls High School, had told a friend in Colorado that he was depressed, struggling with high expectations at school and a strained relationship with his parents, according to the lawsuit.

She emailed Potomac Falls school counselor Richard Bader to see if he could reach out to Jay. On Jan. 11, she wrote that her friend “wants some help but isn’t sure how to initiate, so just thought I’d let you know.”

Jay Gallagher [Courtesy of Love + Jay Facebook page]
Jay Gallagher [Courtesy of Love + Jay Facebook page]
Bader replied in an email, thanking her for the heads up and said that he had been in touch with Jay. A few days later, the 18-year-old took his life.

Jay’s parents, Erin and Timothy Gallagher, are suing Bader—both as an employee of Loudoun County Public Schools and as an individual—in a $5 million wrongful death suit. The lawsuit filed in Loudoun Circuit Court on Friday asserts that Bader is required to report a student’s suicidal behavior to parents.

In the case, Bader is represented by Julia Judkins, the school system’s attorney on retainer. Judkins told the Washington Post that the lawsuit does not tell the full story. She said Jay had told Bader to not tell his parents about their meeting.

Loudoun County has seen a rise in teen suicides in the past year. It’s prompted a community-wide conversation about how to improve the safety net to help struggling teens before they make a fatal decision. Law enforcement leaders and mental health professionals have held town hall-style meetings, working to arm parents to promote potentially life-saving tips. And, in the spring, the school system’s top psychologists, social workers, and counselors rolled out an emergency outreach effort to every high school after a fourth Loudoun student in less than a year committed suicide.

But this is the first a young person’s suicide has made it to a Loudoun County courtroom.

In July, Loudoun County Public Schools posted a statement in response to an outpouring of complaints from Potomac Falls parents and students about Jay’s death. It said that the school system mourned his loss along with the entire community.

The statement continued, “For the past several months, the Gallagher 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.”

dnadler@loudounnow.com
twitter.com/danielle_nadler

13 thoughts on “Loudoun Parents Sue School Counselor Over Son’s Suicide

  • 2016-12-06 at 4:48 pm
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    I wonder if it makes a difference that he was 18 at the time? Are the laws different for students when they are legal adults? If he told the counselor not to tell his parents and the friend wrote that his relationship was strained with this parents…..at the time how would one know what the right choice is? Another reader commented that she asked her counselor not to tell her parents and when that counselor did she ended up homeless. I am sad this happened. Maybe the friend should have told the parents as well? Such a sad situation.

  • 2016-12-06 at 5:16 pm
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    Two simple questions:

    1. If a suicidal student tells the school counselor not to contact his parents, does LCPS authorize its counselors to violate state law and ignore statutory requirements to contact the parents?

    2. Why wouldn’t Judkins agree to meet with Justice Rousch for mediation?

    Recall that Judkins is the same attorney who said “nothing to see here” when Loudoun Valley falsified student test score data among other misconduct.

    Let’s see if that “ethical” information officer can give answers. Unless and until they fire those corrupt attorneys, you will never get ethical behavior from this bunch.

  • 2016-12-06 at 7:50 pm
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    I am truly sorry for their loss, but this is absolutely rediculous. If a person, of any age, wants to end their life, there is not one person on this earth who can stop them. This is displaced anger. You have got to be joking if you think a school counselor has the power to stop such a thing. That is a very sad and incredibly delusional thought. I find it horribly disrespectful to their dead son that they would fabricate blame in hopes to gain a buck, or 5 million. Truly and utterly disgraceful and completely embarrassing. Is a big fat check going to make you feel any better? He’s dead and you are still thinking of yourselves? Celebrate his life and let him rest in peace. You think he’s looking down and this makes him happy? Think again. #brutaltruth #blamegame #diggingforgold #ithasnothingtodowithit #letgoorbedragged

    • 2016-12-07 at 12:55 am
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      Ginger, I guess you also don’t think teachers/doctors should be required to report child abuse? The Virginia legislature decided that educators should be required to inform parents when a student may be suicidal. If you object to that, organize to overturn the law.

      In the meantime, LCPS must follow laws. They have a habit of not doing so. LCPS defrauded the US DoE on its NCLB waiver. LCSB Chairman violated the conflict of interest statute regarding charter schools. LCSB members (4 in total) violated the conflict of interest statute regarding disclosures prior to the budget. LCPS violated FERPA rules. LCPS PIO Wayde Byard committed perjury in court. And the list goes on. For some reason (see the attorneys LCPS employs), they believe they don’t have to follow laws.

      And thus the purpose of this lawsuit. Either LCPS employees follow the law/policy or they don’t have to. The parents asked for mediation using a former Virginia Supreme Court justice. Who do you think knows the laws better, Justice Rousch or Julia Judkins? Would Justice Rousch, in her capacity as a mediator, try to force LCPS into an action that was against the law? Think about that. The parents just wanted compliance with the policies/laws going forward and answers. LCPS wouldn’t provide it.

      Depression is a complicated issue. It can be primarily chemical. And all kids rebel in their teens. Are you suggesting that parents commit their kid for psychological evaluation if the kid gets grumpy and wants time alone for a period of time? This law exists so parents can take action before it’s too late. Some will disagree with it. Overturn it. But if the law exists, LCPS must follow it. If LCPS would ever ditch their attorneys, none of these cases would be necessary. As long as LCPS has intentionally corrupt attorneys, these lawsuits will only increase.

      • 2016-12-08 at 5:19 pm
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        School counselors always take suicide seriously, and I agree with Ginger. Sometimes the kids know what to say, and can lie to the face of the counselor and still commit suicide! I always go back to, where are the parents, friends and the rest of the family? It isn’t all on the counselor! Why didn’t the friend reach out to the parents, or another mutual friend locally? Or even the police? Get over trying to place the blame on the school and its employees! It’s a school, not a day care, or mental health ward!

    • 2016-12-07 at 8:45 am
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      You are wrong, Ginger. Interventions are shown to prevent suicide, and it is ridiculous (not “rediculous”) and ignorant of you to suggest otherwise. The school system has procedures in place to notify the parents when they are aware that a student is suicidal. The counselor, deciding that this young man was not suicidal enough, declined to follow procedures that are in place to protect our students. The parents do not care about the money, but they do care that no-one else loses a child because a school employee ignored their responsibility. #educateyourself #getoffyourhighhorse

    • 2016-12-07 at 6:58 pm
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      Maybe you should know the whole story first…
      Dear Friends, regarding the death of our son, Jay: for over 6 months we have been trying to get LCPS attorneys to sit down with us and a retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice to mediate the following issue:
      • When LCPS personnel learn that a student has been talking of suicide, must they tell his or her parents (or Child Protective Services)?
      • The role of the Justice was not to take evidence and issue a ruling but to see if she could help the parties reach some sort of agreement on this issue.
      In August the lawyers for LCPS rejected that proposal and left us only the option of litigation. We renewed our proposal of mediation on November 21st. It was again rejected.
      For that reason we have only one path forward to get our question answered: we must file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for the loss of our son’s life.
      Today we have filed a lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages and it involves some legal principles about which we want you to be aware:
      • Under Virginia law, we must sue for a fixed sum.
      • To avoid the doctrine of sovereign immunity we must sue an individual employee of the school system. In our case that will be the school employee who knew of our son’s suicidal ideation and, against LCPS policy, kept it a secret from us.
      • We have picked the sum of $5 million because we believe that is the maximum amount the school system will pay on behalf of an employee.
      • We pledge to the employee that we will not seek to recover any money from his personal income or assets.
      To date, the schools system’s position on the matter has been, essentially, “If your child is suicidal and we know it, we may or may not tell you. It’s our option, and we don’t even have to explain why we elected not to tell you.” That’s an unstated and intolerable policy. It defies both the LCPS Suicide Prevention Procedures and all common sense.
      We file this lawsuit with a great deal of reluctance, but based on both the rejection of mediation by the LCPS attorneys and the resultant confusion over LCPS’ intentions to apply its Suicide Prevention Procedures as written, it is the only avenue we have to finally get clarification on the issue once and for all – for us and for all parents of students in Loudoun County Public Schools.

      • 2016-12-08 at 5:21 pm
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        Why would the parties need to reach an agreement if they were not just looking for a payoff!

  • 2016-12-07 at 3:53 pm
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    I agree with Ginger. These parents do not want to face personal responsibility, or understand the medical reasons behind suicide, and want to blame and extort money from the public schools through the courts. This is a frivolous lawsuit and hope the Board of Education wins and the parents find closure in some other way than going after the taxpayers for money.

    • 2016-12-07 at 6:57 pm
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      From their family: That is not what it is about.
      Dear Friends, regarding the death of our son, Jay: for over 6 months we have been trying to get LCPS attorneys to sit down with us and a retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice to mediate the following issue:
      • When LCPS personnel learn that a student has been talking of suicide, must they tell his or her parents (or Child Protective Services)?
      • The role of the Justice was not to take evidence and issue a ruling but to see if she could help the parties reach some sort of agreement on this issue.
      In August the lawyers for LCPS rejected that proposal and left us only the option of litigation. We renewed our proposal of mediation on November 21st. It was again rejected.
      For that reason we have only one path forward to get our question answered: we must file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for the loss of our son’s life.
      Today we have filed a lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages and it involves some legal principles about which we want you to be aware:
      • Under Virginia law, we must sue for a fixed sum.
      • To avoid the doctrine of sovereign immunity we must sue an individual employee of the school system. In our case that will be the school employee who knew of our son’s suicidal ideation and, against LCPS policy, kept it a secret from us.
      • We have picked the sum of $5 million because we believe that is the maximum amount the school system will pay on behalf of an employee.
      • We pledge to the employee that we will not seek to recover any money from his personal income or assets.
      To date, the schools system’s position on the matter has been, essentially, “If your child is suicidal and we know it, we may or may not tell you. It’s our option, and we don’t even have to explain why we elected not to tell you.” That’s an unstated and intolerable policy. It defies both the LCPS Suicide Prevention Procedures and all common sense.
      We file this lawsuit with a great deal of reluctance, but based on both the rejection of mediation by the LCPS attorneys and the resultant confusion over LCPS’ intentions to apply its Suicide Prevention Procedures as written, it is the only avenue we have to finally get clarification on the issue once and for all – for us and for all parents of students in Loudoun County Public Schools.

    • 2016-12-07 at 11:38 pm
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      Simple question. If LCPS has nothing to hide, then why did the district remove its suicide notification policy during the summer once the family asked why that policy wasn’t followed?

      You had 20+ concerned citizens come speak at a board meeting in which LCSB members claimed they were “unaware” the policy had been removed despite being linked to some of the Facebook comments noting the removal.

      And then Supt Williams implored the LCSB in public to restore the policy on the district site.

      If the suit is “frivolous”, why does LCPS feel the need to cover its tracks, to “doctor the log book” as they say? Why doesn’t LCPS actually display some transparency, discuss when its policy is going to be enforced, and explain whether it’s acceptable for a counselor to get back to a suicidal student “within a week”? That shouldn’t be hard. Why the need to constantly apologize for a district that violates laws left and right?

  • 2016-12-07 at 6:38 pm
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    While Bader didn’t legally need to tell his parents, he could have done more to prevent this. He could have spoken to the resource officer and placed Jay under suicide watch. Bader probably already feels awful, should we really be dragging him through this? Yes, it is a terrible loss, yes he could have done more. But Bader did not kill Jay. And Jay made a decision.

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