Moorcroft Leader - The Voice of the Community Since 1909, Serving Moorcroft and Pine Haven, Wyoming

Letter to the Editor


August 15, 2019

Dear Editor,

Many of you know that we lost our son, Josh, to suicide in June. There have been other suicides in our community along with attempts that we may know nothing about.

Wyoming is listed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as third in the country for suicide. This has become an epidemic and we need to try all we can to stop our children from killing themselves.

Hiding or sweeping it under the carpet is not working. Additionally, parents need to know their and their child’s rights. I am writing this letter not for sympathy but to make sure that others can learn from our mistakes.

Let’s discuss the facts about Josh’s situation first and then I have a few opinions. In April 2015, Josh was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder-Inattentive Type (ADHD), and Bipolar Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. These diagnoses are considered disabilities and under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of January 2015, Josh should have been protected by either an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan at his school.

He was not. Josh went to counseling every other week. As Josh began to struggle in school, I requested special education testing to no avail.

In November 2017, Josh’s depression became significantly worse and he began therapy with a different therapist. He was hospitalized twice in February 2018 for suicidal ideations. At that time, Josh was placed on medication for depression.

While hospitalized, Josh was with other children where he learned some destructive behaviors like cutting himself. From February until May, Josh went through medication adjustments and therefore had many difficulties.

In April 2018, we were finally able to get Josh tested by the school for special education. We were told that he did not qualify for assistance as he was “too smart.” In reality, Josh did qualify for help as he had been diagnosed with a disability three years earlier.

He may not have needed help with his academic work but he certainly needed help with the areas indicated in the 2015 testing. These include: Inhibit (has a difficult time resisting impulses and stopping his behavior at the appropriate time), Shift (tends to struggle with moving from one situation or problem to the next), Working Memory (struggle with remembering things even for a few minutes), Plan/Organize (has trouble managing current and future oriented task demands), Monitor (has a tendency to make minor errors during problem-solving tasks, however he is not always aware of these errors), and others.

With medication adjusted, things seemed much better until October 2018 when Josh attempted suicide. He was hospitalized once again and his medication was also adjusted. At this time, long term residential care was considered. We were advised against long term care as Josh was so impressionable that he would learn many more destructive behaviors. Counseling and medication continued.

February 27, 2019, Josh cannot resist when a group of friends say that they should “bring contraband to school and see if we get caught.” He takes a disabled vape and a pocketknife to school.

A friend is worried about the alcohol in his possession and asks Josh to hold it for him; Josh agrees. Josh is searched and ticketed by the police for Minor in Possession of Alcohol and Minor in Possession of Tobacco.

Doug and I are coerced by the school district into placing Josh into the Youth Emergency Services (YES) House for 30 days. We are told that we have to incarcerate Josh or he would have an Expulsion Hearing.

Keep in mind, we had been advised against such action by Josh’s psychiatrist and his therapist. Also keep in mind, these are first offenses for Josh. What was considered a “first” was Josh videoing another child with a vape. The “second” was Josh finding and turning in cigarettes.

We are told that Josh is “crying for help and we’re going to get it for him.” It takes about 20 seconds to search what “help” the YES house crisis shelter offers…nothing. Only an incompetent person would send a child there that is already under the care Josh was under.

We had to go to Gillette to pick Josh up to take him to his appointments in Spearfish. He received no counseling, no group therapy, nothing while at the YES house. Josh learned how to shuffle cards and that you could throw up your medication.

Upon hiring an attorney to represent Josh in juvenile court, imagine our surprise when we learn that the school took a five-month-old photo of Josh with a handgun to the police to try to say that he was becoming increasingly violent. This was just before the school told us that Josh didn’t rate help.

What was the purpose of taking the photo to the police? My opinion is that the school was concerned that Josh just might become violent and they were covering themselves. It seems shady to me. Josh was going through medication changes; you would think that the school would understand this.

If Josh had been properly placed on an IEP or 504 plan, he would have been protected by federal law. The school would have been obligated to follow the law. Josh’s behavior would have been looked at to see if his disability contributed to his actions. I believe that it did.

Remember “Inhibit” described above? I do believe that actions have consequences but I believe 30 days in the YES house was above what should have been doled out for a first offense. In fact, the school handbook does not require 30 days in the YES house for first offenses.

Additionally, the Department of Family Services paid for Josh to go to the YES house but had never even met Josh. Nor had they been to our home. Josh was banned from Crook County School District property. What was the purpose of this? I believe that Josh’s and our rights were trampled on. His freedom was taken away and our ability to parent our child was taken away. I never thought that in the United States, my rights would so easily be taken away.

I did not serve my country for 20 years to have my rights taken away. We did not ask to have a child with mental health issues. No parent asks to have a child with a disability. It’s about time that all children with disabilities are treated the same.

Bottom line is: Josh had a disability that should have been protected by federal law. Josh was overwhelmed by the school district, the juvenile court system that was threatening to take him away from his family, and his depression.

Statistics show that children with mental health issues do not become violent; instead, they become more depressed and often despondent and suicidal when faced with unbearable situations. Upon arriving home from a fabulous vacation from which Josh did not want to go home, instead, within an hour, Josh went to the garage and looped a rope around his neck to suffocate himself. This time, we did not get to him in time.

If your child or grandchild has a mental health issue and you want assistance on your child’s rights, please reach out to Donna Sheen, Wyoming Children’s Law Center, Inc. (307) 462-0596. The Wyoming Children’s Law Center, Inc. is a non-profit organization.

Jessica N. Donnell


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