HANOVER COUNTY, Virginia – Some parents in Hanover County are upset after a peaceful protest led by students at Patrick Henry High School ended in multiple suspensions. They are now asking school administrators to be more sensitive to students concerned about mental health issues.
On Thursday morning, a large group of Patrick Henry students walked out of class to hold placards outside the school, calling attention to the mental health needs of students after a recent suicide in their school community and other tragic losses last year.
The protest, which was not a school-approved activity, was authorized by administrators for a brief period, but when a small group of students did not return to their classrooms after an hour, their parents were called and the students were suspended for ten days. . Although school officials have not confirmed the number of students sanctioned, several parents told CBS6 that more than 20 students have been suspended outside of the school.
“We see so many students under so much stress right now,” says a parent of Patrick Henry who wants to remain anonymous. She says her son, who informed his parents of the protest on Wednesday night, was one of the suspended students.
Although she says she understands the safety and disruption issues cited by school principal Chris Martinez, she believes a note sent to families regarding the incident was insensitive.
“It congratulated the students who stayed at their desks and didn’t go (to the protest) and I was really amazed at how deaf that message was,” she said. “I shared this with the school board as well as with principal Martinez. I really believe this needs to be rewritten in another post. “
In the letter to parents, the principal also said, “As a school and school division, we are also focused on mental health and have worked diligently in this area to better serve our students, families and community. “
A foundation, named in memory of a Goochland County teenager who died by suicide in December, says schools and coaches can play a vital role in helping reach struggling students.
Matthew Cabral, 13, died two days after his birthday and a few weeks before Christmas. Matthew was an outgoing, bright and happy teenager, but his family believe isolation from the pandemic has led to silent mental health issues. His parents have since established the Matthew Smiles Cabral Foundation to help provide resources to schools and coaches regarding mental health issues.
“We need to be able to reach children and reach them quickly when they need help,” said Foundation President Jennifer Stern.
Stern says the foundation is now working with school districts and private organizations to brainstorm ideas for reaching vulnerable students.
“Make sure children have these resources, like the emergency text line, resources in schools to know it’s okay to disagree and to raise their hand and know that someone one will listen and help, ”Stern says.
While Patrick Henry’s families say they understand the stress schools face, they are optimistic school administrators will reduce punishments for students and work to find programs to help students feel included and heard.
“I think they’ve learned a lot over the past few days and done a little bit of self-reflection,” says one parent. “I think they need to share this so that people understand that they take it seriously and that they are not uncomfortable with an uncomfortable subject.”
For more information on the Matthew Smiles Cabral Foundation, you can find a link here.