Administration offers student support in wake of Gunn student death

Emma Chiu and Amy Leung

The Palo Alto High School administration team is offering support for both students and teachers in response to the death of a Gunn High School student earlier this morning.

Paly Principal Kim Diorio sent a follow-up message to the school community today after Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Max McGee sent an email to parents this morning confirming that the Gunn student lost his life to suicide.

Diorio’s letter reminds students that members of the district’s Crisis Response Team, a unit formed in 2009 after a cluster of Palo Alto teen suicides, are “available to meet with students individually and in groups today as well as over the coming days and weeks.”

In an interview with The Paly Voice, Diorio noted that the Crisis Response Team has been meeting with students all day and that the school administration has taken steps to ensure support on campus.

“We [the Paly administration] canceled all of our meetings today and all of our IEPs [Individualized Education Programs],” Diorio said. “I’ve gone out and checked on teachers because we have teachers who have their own children at Gunn or connections to Gunn, and we just want to be really mindful of how people react.”

Diorio also mentioned that there will be a Parent Teacher Student Association General Meeting on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the SSRC to discuss suicide and mental illness. This meeting will be an open forum according to Teacher on Special Assignment Eric Bloom.

“We’ll have some of our mental health team there to talk about suicide and how adults can help youth cope,” Diorio said.

In addition to assisting in the establishment of suicide-prevention network Project Safety Net, PAUSD created a Suicide Prevention Toolkit in 2009 after a cluster of high school student suicides in Palo Alto, according to Assistant Principal Victoria Kim.

“There was a Suicide Prevention Toolkit that was created district-wide … by a committee of representatives from various school sites,” Kim said. “It’s a very comprehensive guide in preventing suicide – anywhere from what to look for, symptoms to look for, what to do, who to call, things like that.”

According to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson, Paly always provides help for students regardless of current situations.

“The support’s always there,” Berkson said. “We have ACS [Adolescent Counseling Services] counseling, [and] we have our own counseling department.”

Berkson said that although the administrative guidance is currently concentrated at Gunn, there is still help for Paly students.

“Some of our staff members are over at Gunn helping out,” Berkson said. “There [are] different [Paly] students who are more affected by things than others, whether it’s a history in the family or all sorts of reasons, so we check in [on] them.”

Spanish teacher and WASC Coordinator Emily Garrison and Special Education Instructional Supervisor Laura Bricca stood on the overpass that leads to Town and Country during Lunch today and handed out candy to passing students.

“We just want to make sure that Paly students know that Paly teachers love Paly students and wish everyone a happy lunch and good rest of their day,” Garrison said. “We want to make sure students know how important they are to us. Really, really, really are. We care a lot about you guys.”

A list of school and community resources are available on the PAUSD Health Services page and the Counseling Services page. If you need immediate assistance, the Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Hotline is available at 1-855-278-4204 at any time. These numbers are also available on the back of student ID cards. If you feel you or someone you know needs immediate support, please call 911.