A community shocked by three recent suicides of Chandler Unified School District students spoke out June 8 and told the Governing Board to do more to address the mental health of young people.
“No parent should ever, ever have to cut their child down,” said Chad Day, whose son Pierson, a Perry High freshman, hung himself on May 24.
“You reached out to me and asked me if we need anything,” Day told Superintendent Frank Narducci. “We don’t need anything financially, but what we do need is you to help us with this community, Mr. Narducci.”
Day said some students asked him to address the board and support them in their call for help.
“It is a shame that they have to come in here and ask for this,” Day said. “It’s up to you to do something about this. If you don’t, we will find someone who will, I promise.”
Members of Arizona Students for Mental Health also spoke and called for more action.
They asked for the formation of a student action board in all CUSD junior high and high schools. The students on those boards would meet monthly with school officials to discuss issues they are experiencing.
They also want students, teachers and staff at all those schools to get mental health first aid training from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing so that they can recognize the signs someone might be in trouble.
In 2019, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 1468, mandating all public school staff be trained in an evidence-based, best practice suicide prevention training at least once every three years.
“I saw firsthand how a lack of mental health resources in school affected my friends and family,” said Maya Lehti, who is 13 and a rising eighth grader at Santan Junior High. “I have found that it is very hard to watch my loved ones struggle … there isn’t much out there to help them.”
Jayden Riecken, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Basha High School, said, “I’ve had my own fair share of struggles with mental health and I feel that a lot of the time there’s no one I can go to for help.
“Personally, I believe that there is a negative stigma that is formed around mental health. And then many people think that the side effects of it are not fixable. In reality, they very much are,” Jayden continued, adding:
“The outdated style of the current mental health system in CUSD is void of any actual potency in relation to issues surrounding mental health. It’s up to me and my fellow students to help change that.”
Jayden said a student action board “would allow for students to feel more connected in the schooling environment, helping to further academic goals. In turn, this would not just encourage students to attend school more but encourage them to go excitedly in it.”
Board President Barb Mozdzen started the meeting by addressing the recent suicides and the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.
“Our Chandler community is not immune to the increase in student suicides that are rocking our nation,” she said. “We grieve the loss of these young lives and the lifelong impact their deaths have on their families, friends, teachers and the rest of the community.
“We are committing to more than $5 million of expenditures through our schools this year, as we continue our commitment to addressing mental health and our mental health issues in our schools,” Mozdzen said. “This also includes ongoing training of staff to identify indicators that a child might be having some troubles together with the community so we will do what we can to keep our families.”
Even though district officials are forbidden by law to respond to citizen comments on matters not on the agenda, Narducci explained what CUSD has planned. He said they have been working on improving their mental health resources for six months.
“So it takes some time to do that,” he said.
He added that the district has many resources already available, that many students may not know about. He said they need to do a better job making sure the students know about those resources.
Narducci added that the district is working with the City of Chandler and is planning a number of forums this fall to address teen suicides. He said they will bring in national experts to speak at those forums.
“There’s a ton of things that we’re already doing that we’ve communicated out to all parents in the summer and gave them resources,” Narducci said.
He said the suggestion for student action boards came up for the first time at last week’s meeting, so there are no plans for that as of now. But he said district administrators are working on a plan going forward and that an action board would be something they can look at.
“This is not going to be one shot and done,” Narducci said. “This is going to be sustainable, so that we can get evidence-based research practices that help us move forward.”
The Arizona Peer and Family Coalition also wrote a letter to district officials urging them to hold a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the increase in suicides.
Board member Lindsay Love said the District is not doing enough on mental health issues.
“I get a little weepy when we talk about suicide,” Love said. “Last year, we ended … the year with a suicide and this year, we’ve ended with three. I had spoken about never wanting to be in this position again, and we’re in a worse position than we were.”
Chandler educator and mental heath advocate Katey McPherson praised the students who spoke.
I was so proud to watch these students advocate for additional mental health and suicide prevention resources,” she said. “They came from all over the District and have organized themselves formally.”