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Pine-Richland parent group seeks ways to prevent teen suicide

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A group of parents in the Pine-Richland School District wants the district to collaborate with the community to prevent teen suicide.

“I believe Pine-Richland has had an elephant in the room for the past three years: teen suicide,” Mary Schnepp, of Richland Township, said during the public comments portion of the June 24 school board meeting.

Schnepp said there have been three suicides in the district over the past three years. She outlined a proposal that included lessons on teen suicide, to accompany the school's existing anti-bullying lessons, along with a parent support group and an effort by teachers, parents, students, administrators and board members to research the issue.

“I am here this evening to commit myself and my community in this joint effort,” Schnepp said.

She asked the board to coordinate help, saying that Pine-Richland is full of “forward-thinkers and path-pavers.”

Interim superintendent Dave Foley said in an interview that the district is working to deal with the issue.

“We're very concerned about it,” Foley said. “We're trying to get different systems in place by the fall.”

Schnepp said her two sons, a 19-year-old Pine-Richland alumnus and a 17-year-old senior, knew the three students who died by suicide. She said her family was personally affected by the losses.

“I don't understand it, I don't know why, but three is three too many, and I just can't sit around anymore and watch,” Schnepp said. “I just want to make sure we're not missing something.”

Amy Olson, a friend of Schnepp's, joined her at the June 24 meeting. Olson, who has three children in the Pine-Richland schools, said she was excited when Schnepp pitched the proposal to her because many other parents also are concerned.

“I just think if we explore it more, then we can do more,” she said.

Data from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office shows that in the 15 to 19 age group, there were eight suicides in 2010 and four suicides in 2011. In those years, two suicide cases were reported in Richland Township, according to the medical examiner's records.

Schnepp said she thought the school responded to each death appropriately, providing students the opportunity to receive help from professional counseling services. But she said more needs to be done to stop what seems to be becoming a trend.

“The school did respond, I feel appropriately, and churches in the area responded,” she said. “But when I talk to people, there are kids hurting out there. To me, it's a cry for help. Maybe these kids don't know where to go or who to go to.

“I don't want to blame anybody. It's not the school's fault, it's not the parent's fault. I just feel helpless and I don't like feeling that way,” Schnepp said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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