The suicide of a Triad Middle School student last week has rocked the Champaign County community and has prompted local leaders to review procedures and the handling of bullying in the district.
Triad Superintendent Chris Piper said he couldn’t go into details about the specific case of an 11-year-old girl who was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at her home last week, but said the district is committed to the safety of their students.
“We are going to step back and evaluate what we are doing,” Piper said.
The death is the second suicide in the district in nearly five years.
The girl’s step-father asked the community to stay vigilant and be supportive of every child.
“To both parents and children, whether affected by bullying or not, take accountability of your kids,” he said. “Be with them every step of the way, so another family doesn’t have to go through this.”
Parents and community members gathered at a regular school board meeting Monday night to air concerns over the district’s approach to bullying.
Some friends and family members of the girl said she was bullied at the middle school, even as she was battling cancer and receiving chemotherapy. Some who attended the school board meeting Monday night said they believed the district could have done more.
“I think this could’ve been prevented if the right measures were taken, but hindsight’s 20/20,” said Russell Penhorwood, the father of the girl’s best friend. “It’s aggravating, this could’ve been anybody’s kid.
“(I) even called the school a few times on it so they could do some checking in and they said they were supervising the situations,” Penhorwood said.
His daughter has taken her friends death very hard.
“They were very close, they both helped each other develop and grow,” Penhorwood said.
Triad follows a comprehensive bullying policy that aims to make sure students are educated in a safe environment, Piper said.
“Understandably everyone is upset,” Piper said. “We are upset and parents are upset and I fully understand there is a need to assign blame and that is a normal human reaction, I get that. In our middle school, there is a concerted effort to educate the kids to change negative behaviors and (for staff) to deal with situations.”
The district makes inclusion an ongoing conversation, he said, and talks about the right way to act when dealing with others. Teachers and principals also are told to respond immediately to any accusations of bullying in the schools, Piper said.
He plans to sit down and speak with each parent and community member who went to the meeting.
“I have the utmost confidence in our teachers and principals to address issues that are brought to their attention,” Piper said.
Many people at the meeting said they were upset at a letter sent by the school district following the suicide. The letter made no mention of bullying.
Piper said the letter was to inform parents of the situation and how the school district was responding. He said the letter addressed signs of suicide and that it’s important for parents to keep an eye on the health of their students.
Another 11-year-old Triad Middle School student killed himself in April 2012. Both deaths are tragedies, Piper said, but shouldn’t define how well or poorly the district handles bullying and other situations at school.
“I would invite people to come into our schools and watch the interactions between students, and students and staff,” Piper said. “They would see the pride in the schools themselves.”
The district has received a lot of community support in the past week, Piper said. Counsellors from other local school districts and institutions went to the middle schools to help students and teachers grieve.
“This is tragic,” Piper said. “It has been very difficult.”
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