Home Local News Column: Governor’s handling of student suicide is inexcusable

Column: Governor’s handling of student suicide is inexcusable

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It’s unthinkable.

On April 23, 11-year-old Landon Fuller of Hobbs took his own life. His parents said he had written in his journal that his loneliness was driving him mad. He wrote in it that all he wanted was to go to school and play outside with his friends.

The day after Landon’s death, his grieving parents notified the school system and canceled his enrollment.

In May, Landon’s mother, Katrina, reached out to Gov. Lujan Grisham, who promised her by phone that mental health would become her No. 1 priority.

Little has happened: a suicide hotline and a website.

Are children really going to go there when they’re on the brink of desperation? This unacceptable “solution” to a serious mental health problem involving our kids speaks volumes of this Governor’s Administration.

Nearly eight months after Landon’s death, a brief form letter arrived at Katrina’s mailbox.

It came from the Public Education Department (PED) and had a Utah return address.

“We care about Landon’s well-being and success,” the curt letter began.

The insensitive letter asked why Landon wasn’t in school, saying that records indicated he had been absent. The letter questioned whether he was actually attending school. How could the state not know that a student had died? How could something like this actually happen?

“My shock started turning into just rage,” remembered Katrina after she got the letter. “… and it put me back into that same state of mind that I was the first day whenever I found out that my son had passed away… It was very re-traumatizing.”

This insulting and impersonal communication is not only callous, inexcusable and lacks any decency, but it clearly shows the state’s inability and unwillingness to address this mental health crisis happening throughout New Mexico. It’s a statewide crisis created by the Governor’s Public Health Order, and it’s taking a toll on young lives.

The Governor’s decision to have schools online is failing students in many ways. The Administration is simply out of touch. This is not acceptable, and the lack of empathy and initiative to tackle this mental health emergency is appalling. The state won’t take student mental health seriously, can’t handle its education records responsibly and refuses to address this deadly problem.

More New Mexico students have died from suicide than from COVID-19. Landon’s death is one too many. Other children have committed suicide this year, and there have been other attempts across the state. New Mexico suicide prevention centers in 2020 have seen a spike in calls.

The latest CDC statistics show that New Mexico has the second highest suicide rate in the nation with 25 per 100,000 residents. Only Wyoming, with 25.2 is higher.

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There’s no state law requiring suicide prevention training for schools, and there’s still no comprehensive prevention plan in New Mexico. To say one cares about mental health is one thing—to actually do something to protect kids is another.

The Governor has failed the state again; her Administration has proven to be dysfunctional and irresponsible. The Public Education Department recently admitted it cannot find more than 12,000 of its students. What’s going on here? How many of these students are on the verge of desperation and the only support parents get is a form letter?

If schools were opened up, students could be kept from falling further behind, teachers could be watching for mental struggles and parents would know in a timely fashion if their kids were not in school.

Governor, it is time to get the schools open or at least give families the option of in-person learning.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle is a Republican representing the Roswell area.

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