Saskatchewan

Teen suicide inquest jury recommends anti-bullying protocol, record incidents in database

Staff at Balgonie's Greenall High School and administration within the Prairie Valley School Division should re-evaluate school policies and anti-bullying efforts, a jury in a coroner's inquest stated as one of six recommendations on Monday.

Kaleab Dean Schmidt took his own life in 2018 after bullying and racism at Balgonie school

Kaleab Schmidt was 13 years old when he took his life. A coroner's inquest jury has made six recommendations to avoid a similar death in the future. (Submitted by Belan Tsegaye)

Staff at Balgonie's Greenall High School and administration within the Prairie Valley School Division should re-evaluate school policies and anti-bullying efforts, a jury in a coroner's inquest stated as one of six recommendations on Monday.

The recommendations came as the inquest into the suicide death of 13-year-old Kaleab Dean Schmidt wrapped up in Regina. Schmidt took his own life in April 2018 after enduring bullying and racism.

"A poster in the hallway is not effective," the six-person jury said in its recommendation to the school and division.

The inquest into Schmidt's death also included recommendations for his family, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services, Mobile Crisis services, adoption programs and social services and also psychologists who treat youths.

The teen was suspended from school for four days before his death — his third suspension. He had been in an altercation with a classmate during a lunch-hour basketball game.

RCMP chose to charge Kaleab with assault causing bodily harm for the incident on April 29, 2018, the day before his death.

The inquest also heard that Schmidt had been in fights over people calling him the n-word, that there was a Snapchat group named "I hate Kaleab Schmidt."

Coroner's inquests are public proceedings to determine the circumstances surrounding a sudden or unexpected death. They are not court proceedings, nor are they designed to assign blame.

The jury decided that Schmidt died by suicide, through asphyxiation and it took place in the Schmidt family barn. He died sometime between 2 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. on April 30, 2018.

Coroner Alma Wiebe presided over the proceedings, which were conducted from March 2-6 and the 9th at the Holiday Inn and Suites on Prince of Wales Drive in Regina. 

Recommendations

To the Prairie Valley School Division and Greenall High School:

The jury made five suggestions in their recommendation to the school and school division that there needs to be protocol for investigations into all physical altercations and reports of bullying and racism within the school, with the help and involvement of a social worker.

It's also advising that every single incident must be recorded in a central system, like the Settlement Workers in Schools program. The program is an outreach initiative which assists newcomers in getting settled in their community.

Schmidt was adopted as a child, along with his siblings, from Ethiopia.

The jury advises that mediation should occur immediately after an incident and that the school and division's suspension policy be reviewed. 

"Sending students home does not appear to work," the jury surmised.

Teachers, administrators and students should also be educated and made aware of the bullying policy within the division or school and that the alleged bully in any situation must be addressed.

"They need to be the focus."

To Kaleab's family:

The jury recommended that Kaleab's family stay immersed within the surrounding ethnic communities and that they continue family counselling, "including anger management for Mr. Schmidt."

To the Ministry of Social Services:

Communicate client information — with appropriate consent — as social workers from the ministry, the school, and the Saskatchewan Health Authority are "swimming in different lanes."

Workers should have shifts to meet the needs of their clients and that they be available between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

There should also be follow through when someone initiates contact with the ministry. The ministry is advised to routinely refresh and update training, such as the applied suicide intervention skills training program (ASIST).

Use more discretion when speaking with youth over the phone as face-to-face conversations are not always possible. The jury recommends alternative modes of communication like FaceTime or video chat.

Kaleab (centre) was adopted from Ethiopia along with his siblings. (Sandra Barker-Schmidt/Facebook)

To Mobile Crisis services:

Mobile Crisis workers "MUST have training" with ASIST or mental wellness, and should mirror training provided within the Ministry of Social Services.

The jury notes in its recommendation that more staff is required and that a person should answer crisis calls, not a machine.

To International Adoption Program / Social Services:

Adoptive parents are advised to seek testing to determine biological age and then treat the child accordingly, while adjusting all legal records at the time.

Home study should be expanded to include community and that therapy be provided to an adopted child upon arrival.

To psychologists:

Counselling children should involve parents.

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