CATAWISSA RR — The Southern Columbia Area School District is in mourning over the death of a ninth-grade student.
Columbia County Coroner Jeremy R. Reese released a statement Tuesday declaring the manner of death for the 14-year-old girl a suicide. He said he responded to the family home in Catawissa Township at 7:05 p.m. Monday.
Reese reported the girl’s name, but it is not being used here because of the nature of her death. Reese said he won’t be releasing any other details and the situation remains under investigation by the Montour Township Police Department.
Superintendent Paul Caputo said Tuesday the confirmation of suicide “makes her loss even more tragic.”
“There are many reasons, including emotional and environmental causes, that contribute to a person committing suicide. We do not yet know why our student took this action but will work with Montour Township Police to investigate its cause,” he said in a statement Tuesday evening.
The death sparked conversation on social media that included allegations that the girl was bullied by fellow students and that at least three teachers at times were somehow involved.
Caputo said the rumors are “unsubstantiated” and the district’s main concern is providing support to those who need it, including the family. The student has a younger sister in the district, and Caputo expressed the importance of supporting her, including when she returns to school.
Police, administrators meet
A staff meeting was led by principals Tuesday morning where the situation was explained regarding the information they had at the time, which was only that the girl had died. Caputo said teachers during first period explained to students what had happened and that they were free to leave class to see a counselor. In addition to school counselors, outside support was brought in as well.
Around 1 p.m. Tuesday, Caputo, middle school Principal William Callahan, high school Principal Jim Becker and another administrator met with police at the school. No teachers were interviewed, according to Caputo.
In addressing the bullying rumors, Caputo said he doesn’t believe the rate of reported bullying incidents at Southern Columbia are any higher or lower than other schools. There are bullying incidents reported, sometimes by parents, and he recalls a handful that have been brought to him in his six years serving as superintendent. Parents typically report to the school principals and choose to contact him when they aren’t satisfied.
Caputo said those with concerns “have an obligation” to report it to a principal or himself. Any concern brought to the attention of a school official is investigated, he stressed.
Caputo said no parent had reached out to him Tuesday and he believes everyone’s main concern is supporting the family.
Parent weighs in
Early Tuesday, Jodie Novatka Levan, who has two children at Southern Columbia Area, expressed anger on Facebook that “teachers that did nothing stop these little a**holes who think they have the right to destroy someone’s soul.”
With over 100 comments and 163 shares as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Levan began an online conversation about bullying in schools, particularly Southern, and the way some parents feel administrators have ignored the problem.
Asked directly about the comments, Caputo reiterated he is not aware of the rumors and will not address comments made online. He encouraged people to contact him through his office.
Also, he urges anyone posting on social media who has knowledge surrounding bullying of the girl to contact Montour Township Police immediately.
Levan told The News-Item Monday she intends to gather as many people as possible to attend the school board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the district office.
“I’m sure a lot will go down and express their concerns about what can be done,” she said.
Levan said one parent told her his daughter was bullied so badly last school year that he went to the school to file a complaint. The year ended without anything being done, she claimed, and the new year began with the student once again being targeted, this time by staff.
She acknowledged that much of what she has heard is “hearsay,” but the death caused her to speak out.
“Something needs to change. Everyone needs to come together and we have to make it a better place for kids to be,” she said. “They’re there for an education and shouldn’t be worried about going to school because they’re afraid of the kids making fun of them.”
SAHS student reacts
News spread to neighboring schools and elicited an emotional response.
Shamokin Area High School sophomore Dylan Bainbridge, who didn’t know the Southern suicide victim, expressed his feelings through a Facebook post by his mother, Tiffany Scicchitano. Within three hours, the post was shared more than 70 times.
“All of you can sit there and make fun of someone just because they aren’t like YOU, or as cool as you, or as popular, or as noticed as you,” he wrote.
He spoke to the alleged bullies, stating, “You can all now walk on that stage, and feel proud of yourselves for getting through high school. This girl can’t even walk that stage anymore, she can’t drive around in her car when she’s 17 with her friends. She can’t grow up and start a family and get married, all because you thought it was funny to bring this girl down because she wasn’t like the rest of you.”