Teen suicides draw discussion at meeting

Parents, staff and board ponder recent Douglas County tragedies


Staff, board and community members talked during the Feb. 18 Douglas County School District board meeting about the recent rash of teen suicides.

Comments ranged wildly, with one parent calling for parental unity, a teacher harshly criticizing the superintendent's response and a student suggesting DCSD spend more money on high school counselors.

Four Douglas County teens were lost to suicide between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11 - a number equal to the total of teen suicides in the county in 2013.

ThunderRidge High School senior Sophie Pepin asked if more money would be allocated to high school counseling, noting some students are shifted to peer counselors when adult professionals aren't available.

At about 900-to-1, DCSD's ratio of students to counselors is well below the 250-to-1 level recommended by the American School Counselor Association. When elementary schools - which don't have counselors - are excluded, the ratio of students to counselors at the middle and high school levels is 350-to-1, according to DCSD staff.

School leaders said they can't yet commit to hiring more counselors.

"There are just a lot of things competing for that money," said Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen, specifically noting the district's intent to increase staff pay. "It'll definitely be part of the conversation."

DCSD special education director Jason Germain told the board that student mental health continues to be a high priority.

Teachers are "on the front lines" identifying potentially troubled children, he said, adding that the problem extends well beyond school doors to the nation's approach to mental health.

"I feel the mental health system has been broken for a long time," he said.

School board member Craig Richardson agreed.

"Adolescence onset is occurring earlier and earlier," he said. "We're (also not) defining adulthood until the age of 26. (So) we've elongated this period of adolescent stress ... precisely at the time that we've dismantled our mental health care system. And we wonder why we have problems in addressing the needs of our students."

Parent Becky Barnes, traditionally a strong board supporter, addressed the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting. She said high school sports rivals Castle View and Douglas County came together after the deaths, which included two DCHS students. 

"We as a community need to come together for the sake of our children and the negativity must stop," she said. "Let's take the advice of our children - be strong, supportive and make the difference."

Another parent read a letter written by a teacher that criticized Fagen for not having a physical presence at DCHS.

"You weren't there thanking us for the countless hours we held students' hands while they cried," Amy McDowell read. "You didn't even see fit to send DCHS staff an email thanking us for all that we are doing for our students under such difficult circumstances."

The letter also asked where a teacher could submit their work with distressed students as evidence to support a "highly effective" performance rating.

"There is no way to evaluate that, and if there was, I would be undisputedly highly effective and you, Liz, would be working on that resume because you would be out of a job," McDowell read.


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If there was blame for teen suicide, which typically there is not, with confidence I can say in Douglas County, it squarely lies on the shulders of the Executive Leaders (ala Elizabeth Fagen) and administrators of any secondary education system who doesn't realize the importance of focusing on needs of the individual child/student. Given the comments of Dr. Fagen and the cohersive work environment of Douglas County, it would appear the majority of the secondary schools are mesmerized by an Orwellian concept of what makes for a healthy student. With that being said, based upon the transcript of the above, the superintendent missed the mark by a long shot with regards of what makes for a health teen and student, unless we are regressing back to 1970s regarding mental and emotional health issues of adolescents and wanting to assign blame to the individual or parents of the teen with issues. That way, when we try to assign blame for the bomb threat today at Legend High School, we won't look to the bullying tactics of Corey Wise or his administrative staff. We can assign blame to the parents and the students of the person responsible for the bomb threat at Legend High School. We can be even more regressive and make the person the evil construct for this situation and not the truly evil construct tat exists at the school administrativ level- a group of former athletes, bullying students who don't fit into that athletic mold. Again, very restrictive and abuse environment for anyone not within the preferred or desired set of criteria. Which is okay if we have a private school system. But we don't. It's a public school- get it straight. This isn't Fountain Head Revisited. (if this isn't in a list of suggested reading, I suggest you read it)

In addition, if we are now to view 2ndary education as a corporate structure then the administrators are only sychophynts of the executive construct and dogma. For those of you without the benefit of a quality education, like those students in the Douglas County Schools who may not fit into the molde, that means no one disagrees with the boss (Dr. Fagen), and if Elizabeth Fagen says, we need to return to the Dark Ages of addressing teen suicide and depresion like covering up a suicide in our high schools or continuing to put prinicipals and adminsitirators in a position to bully students who don't conform to the expectations of school administration, then so be it. I mean, it means we are being highly effective, right?

Thank you Amy McDowell for being a voice of insanity in a sea of despair. I dare Dr. Fagen to speak to the parent of those students and somehow convey how spending money on credentialed therapists and skilled counselors (not teachers who just want to get out of the classroom) would be money well-spent on saving students' lives. What is wrong with you Dr. Fagen? Did someone not love you enough when you were growing up?

Friday, March 7, 2014 | Report this

Losing a child is something no parent wants to go through no matter what. Dr. Fagen, please make a special effort to call those parents who lost a teen through suicide and explain how it's not a good use of resources at the 2ndary level to spend on programs to support struggling teens. Where would you like to spend money? On more administrators who view educating our future leaders as a career path?

Savage environment- we deserve better for our children and to grow a creative teaching staff.

Friday, March 7, 2014 | Report this