The Loudoun County School Board got an earful from speakers Tuesday night about a lack of transparency in how the division addresses reports of students considering suicide.
Six speakers approached the board at its first meeting back after a month-long recess. Their outrage was spurred by the death of Potomac Falls High School student Jay Gallagher, who took his life in February.
His parents created a Facebook page, “Love + Jay,” in June to share publicly that school counselors did not follow protocol when they were allegedly told by a friend of Jay that the teen was considering suicide. “The counselor chose not to contact us, Jay’s parents, to inform us that someone had reported that Jay was considering suicide. We have not received an explanation as to why this choice was made,” the Gallaghers wrote on the Facebook page.
In her comments to the School Board on Tuesday, April Redmon, a parent of two Potomac Falls High School students, said Jay’s friend followed the school system’s Acknowledge Care Tell protocol. “The Acknowledge Care Tell, or ACT, technique teaches students to identify signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in themselves or peers and then seek help from a trusted adult, a teacher or a coach. … But then what happens when a student does tell a trusted LCPS adult? What are the protocols that are followed?”
She said the suicide prevention protocols that were once posted on the Loudoun County Public Schools website have since been taken down. “What are those procedures, staff expectations, and protocols? Parents have a right to know what guidance counselors are trained and expected to do.”
Superintendent Eric Williams and several board members responded to the speakers’ comments from the dais, and said the community’s concerns were not falling on deaf ears.
Williams said there is no reason the document outlining the division’s protocols related to students struggling with mental illness should not be posted. “My understanding, perhaps it’s a misunderstanding, is that it is posted. If not, it certainly needs to be.”
The school system website does have a Mental and Behavioral Health Services page, at lcps.org/mentalhealthservices, that lists some of the programs and procedures in place.
Beth Huck (At Large) said the comments she’s seen from Loudoun families effected by suicide “are gut wrenching” and she promised to continue to work on improving the division’s mental health safety net as part of the Student Services Committee. “Bringing this issue to the forefront is very important to me. I hope we can make some improvements there,” she added.
The school system posted a statement July 28 that said it mourned the loss of Jay Gallagher 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.”
Jay is one of at least four Loudoun County public school teens that took their own lives during the 2015-2016 school year, an uptick from the typical suicidal rate of one every couple of years.
See related article: “After 4 Teen Suicides Loudoun Schools Launch Emergency Prevention Efforts”