Hanover County, Virginia — After a peaceful student-led protest at Patrick Henry High School ended in multiple suspensions, some parents in Hanover County were uneasy. They are now calling on school administrators to be more sensitive to students who are concerned about mental health issues.
On Thursday morning, a large group of Patrick Henry students walked out of class, holding signs outside the school, calling attention to the mental health needs of students who had recently committed suicide in the school community and suffered other tragic losses last year.
The protest was not approved by the school. The administrator allowed the protest within a short period of time, but when a small group of students did not return to the classroom after an hour, their parents were called and the students were suspended for ten days. Although school officials The number of students subject to disciplinary action was not confirmed, but several parents told CBS6 that more than 20 students were suspended outside school.
“We now see so many students under such pressure,” said a parent of Patrick Henry, who asked not to be named. She said her son notified his parents of the protest on Wednesday night and was one of the students suspended from school.
Although she said she understood the safety and class interference issues raised by the school principal Chris Martinez, she believed that the note sent to the family about the incident was insensitive.
“It praised the students who stayed at their desks and did not go (to participate in the protest), and I was really shocked at how speechless this message was,” she said. “I shared this with the school board and Principal Martinez. I really believe this needs to be resolved in another message.”
In the letter to the parents, the principal also said: “As a school and school department, we are also very concerned about mental health and work hard in this regard to better serve our students, families and communities.”
A foundation named in honor of a teenager in Guqilan County who committed suicide last December said that schools and coaches can play an important role in helping students who are experiencing difficulties.
13-year-old Matthew Cabral died two days after his birthday and a few weeks before Christmas. Matthew is an outgoing, cheerful, and happy teenager, but his family believes that the isolation of the pandemic has caused silent mental health problems. Since then, his parents created the “Matthew Smile Cabral Foundation” to help provide schools and coaches with resources on mental health issues.
“We must be able to find children and find them quickly when they need help,” said Jennifer Stern, the chairman of the foundation.
Stern said the foundation is now working with school districts and private organizations to brainstorm ideas to help disadvantaged students.
“Make sure that the children have these resources, such as the crisis text line, the resources in the school, can be aware of abnormalities, raise their hands and know that someone will listen and provide help,” Stern said.
Although Patrick Henry’s family stated that they understand the pressures facing the school, they are optimistic that school administrators will reduce the punishment of students and will work hard to find projects that help students feel accepted and listened to.
“I think they have learned a lot in the past few days, and they have also done some self-reflection,” one parent said. “I think they need to share this so that people understand that they really take it seriously and that they don’t feel uncomfortable dealing with an uncomfortable topic.”
For more information about the Matthew Smiles Cabral Foundation, you can find a link here.