BISD settles suit over suicide for $1.325 million

Editor’s note:

The family’s name in this story has been omitted to respect their privacy as their daughter committed suicide. But the Bainbridge Island School District’s role in paying out such a large sum of money is important public record that up until now had gone unreported.

The Bainbridge Island School District has settled a civil lawsuit for $1.325 million to a family whose daughter committed suicide at a wooded location at the end of school property, the district says in response to a Public Records Request.

The student died Oct. 23, 2017. The family’s claim was filed June 20, 2019. The settlement says, “It is understood by claimants that liability is expressly denied by the” BISD. The Washington Schools Risk Management Pool paid the amount on behalf of the district. The settlement was made June 19, 2020, but just was made public after an investigation by the Review.

A 632-page Public Records Request response from the risk management pool, much of which was redacted, shows detailed information on the case along with negotiations over the years.

Attorney Mark Leemon of Seattle, in a March 24, 2020, letter to the law firm Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch, also of Seattle, says that he had been authorized by the family to settle all claims for $5.5 million, although they initially sought $15 million. The letter says the district disregarded a substantial risk of harm as the girl previously had attempted suicide that resulted in inpatient hospitalization.

The letter continues saying because their insurance ran out she couldn’t stay in inpatient treatment. She continued self-harm with cutting behavior. A counselor emailed teachers after receiving information from a social media post hinting that she was suicidal. It was recommended that school officials watch her until her parents pick her up so they know she is safe. Counselors later wrote she seemed “happy and with her peers” during lunch.

However, Leemon later writes that video shows the girl “walking out of the school with no one else in the picture until she leaves the camera frame. It is doubly chilling knowing that the danger was clearly foreseen.”

The letter also talks about confusion regarding paraeducators after one quit, and counselors not being contacted about ending sessions with the girl. The letter also gives an example of one day when the mom was late picking her up becoming frantic when the girl wasn’t where she was supposed to be. The letter says the principal did not show concern other than, “mom seemed to be under the impression that the paraeducator was somehow responsible for her after school hours.”

Leemon’s letter later states that Eagle Harbor High School staff showed concern for the girl, keeping track of her whereabouts. However, Bainbridge High staff was “lax” in its oversight, a tort claim says.

The lawyer’s letter says the parents are entitled to damages for the loss of their parent-child relationship under the state’s wrongful death act and more.

The letter adds: The parents “had done everything possible to keep their daughter alive and were then faced with her school simply and without excuse losing track of her. This kind of pain is endless. The number of experiences these parents would have shared with their daughter but now will not is likewise endless.”

Leemon’s letter explains how the 15-year-old girl was kind, intelligent, warm and talented. Her many friends loved her and were grief-stricken. “This was a young woman who was loved and whose loss left a whole community bereft.”

He concludes by saying the family is willing to settle to avoid additional pain not only to them but to the BI community.

Bainbridge police recently refused Public Records Requests for information. But they did provide the information earlier to others, including the risk management pool, which did include those reports in its response.

The police reports say after the girl left the library and went missing about 30 friends and family, along with police, searched Sakai, Strawberry Hill and Cannery parks, along with Grand Forest, but could not find her.

A missing person report says she left school early and turned off her phone. The last outgoing text was Oct. 21 at almost 10 p.m. when she was at a haunted house with friends. Her parents told police she was in mental-health therapy and had good days and bad days.

A message from the school district at the time the girl went missing says: Bainbridge police and other law enforcement launched a wide search Tuesday for the girl after she went missing Monday morning after signing into the school’s library.

The community got involved in the search. A Facebook page was even set up called, “Bainbridge Island Searching for ———.”

Using cell phone records, police found the location. Police said she had died about 30 hours earlier.

A police report from that time says they checked the girl’s room and found drawings, paintings, poems, literature and journals depicting suicide. A notebook from her French class stated, “Today is my death day.”

The school district message continues saying the search was called off Tuesday night. “She has been a student in the Bainbridge Island School District since kindergarten and will be missed by staff and students throughout our community,” superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen wrote.

Counseling staff from across the school district, as well as neighboring school districts, were available at the high school to support grieving students. Five counselors were available at BHS, and one at EEHS. Bainbridge Youth Services also provided counseling.

Despite Leemon’s letter about concern at BHS, at least one counselor in an email shows great care for the suicidal girl. She “is a sweet girl and works hard in school. She does appear high functioning, but know she is not good at asking for help when she needs it at this point.”

Another message from Bang-Knudsen to the community later on Nov. 9, 2017 says the district formed a task force to discuss “measures our school district and our community can do to help prevent suicides … You have my promise that BISD will continue to address students’ social and emotional health needs, including best strategies for suicide prevention.”

A Review obituary at the time says she was born March 25, 2002, in Bellevue and passed away Oct. 23, 2017. She will be remembered for her love and empathy of all animals. She loved the outdoors, taking walks on the beach and collecting shells, windsurfing at the Columbia Gorge, horseback riding, swimming, camping, hiking and backpacking with friends. She also was a young athlete who played select soccer for years, lacrosse and ran cross-country. She loved music and dabbled with violin, ukulele, guitar, piano and played trumpet at Sakai and Woodward. Mostly she was a free spirit who was loved and who loved, who is now free from her pain that she kept inside.

For her memorial service, local students made hundreds of cranes.