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Family Says School Could Have Prevented Suicide

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CN) — The mother and grandparents of a girl who committed suicide last year sued her school district, claiming its policy on suicide awareness and prevention was outdated.

Kelly Wren, Pamela Hannigan and Thomas Hannigan claim in court that "there is a strong chance" Mikyla Wren's suicide could have been prevented had the board of education for Mundelein High School District 120 followed a state-law requirement to keep its protocol on how to process warning signs of suicide among its students current.

The school's policy on suicide awareness and prevention has not been updated since 1999, according to a lawsuit the girl's family filed last week in Lake County, Ill.

According to the complaint, Mundelein High School's dean of students and a school counselor were aware that Wren, a 14-year-old freshman, had contemplated suicide.

"On Oct. 15, 2015 at the end of the school day, Samantha Smigielski, dean of students for Mundelein High School, telephoned Kelly Wren to inform her that Mikyla's Chromebook had been flagged by Gaggle Safe Classroom software for the word 'suicide,'" the lawsuit states.

Smigielski, who is not named as a defendant in the complaint, allegedly assured Wren's mother that a school social worker would pull her daughter from class the following Monday for services.

During their conversation, Smigielski did not inform Wren's mother of something the freshman had written during school that one of her teachers expressed concerns over, the complaint states.

Days later, after failing to intervene, Smigielski allegedly emailed the mother to say "the beginning and end of terms are always chaotic."

Wren committed suicide on Oct. 26, 2015.

Her writings were not revealed to her family until after a death investigation launched by the Mundelein Police Department, even though they contained "critical information necessary to assess Mikyla's risk of suicide," the complaint states.

The school allegedly continues to refuse her family access to the writings.

School social worker Julie Wheeler told investigators that she "made an introduction to Mikyla and offered support as needed" six days after her Chromebook was flagged, court records show. Wheeler is not a defendant in the Oct. 17 complaint.

Wren's family claims Mundelein High School has not disclosed information regarding Wheeler's conversation with Wren, or if it was determined that she needed mental health services.

Almost five months after her suicide, Mundelein High School Superintendant Kevin Meyers, who allegedly promised to provide answers to the family, sent an email stating, "Based on our counsel's advice I am not able to answer any of your questions."

Illinois required all schools to amend suicide-prevention policies to comply with Ann Marie's Law prior to the 2015-2016 school year, according to the complaint.

"This is a postcard example of why this law was enacted in the first place," the family's attorney Steven Glink said in a released statement. "The schools are with these kids eight hours a day. Mom did what she could, but she was completely in the dark."

According to Ann Marie's Law, four out of five teens show clear warning signs before attempting suicide, including preoccupation with death and talking about suicide.

The amendment directs schools to maintain a website to assist educators about suicide awareness and prevention, and requires staff serving students in grades six through 12 to complete four hours of youth suicide-awareness training every five years.

"Our family has been through a tragedy with the death of our granddaughter, and we wanted to reach out so that if there was anything that could be done in the future to learn from our mutual experience, both the school district's and the family's, to help prevent a future suicide," Wren's grandfather Thomas Hanningan said in a statement. "Nothing we could do would ever bring our precious granddaughter back, but other families have precious children also. If there is a policy in effect that will help prevent that problem in the future, that's what we want to do."

Wren's family seeks a court order requiring Mundelein High School to comply with Ann Marie's Law. They do not seek monetary damages. Their attorney, Glink, is based in Northbrook, Ill.

School district officials told local news outlets that they do not comment on pending litigation.

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