Couple Sues School District for Not Alerting Them to Daughter’s Suicide Threat Before Her Death

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Madison Ocheltree, 12, died by suicide in May, just about one month after her school became aware that she’d threatened to do so in a text to a friend

The parents of a 12-year-old girl who died by suicide last spring have filed suit against her school district, school principal and counselor, alleging that school policy was violated after they “failed and refused” to take action upon learning the middle schooler had expressed suicidal thoughts.

Dan and Morgan Ocheltree took legal action against the Yuba City Unified School District in California, as well as counselor Todd Tyler, principal Clint Johnson and other unnamed defendants on Nov. 21, according to the negligence and wrongful death suit, which was obtained by PEOPLE.

The Ocheltree’s daughter Madison died by suicide on May 24, a little more than a month after she allegedly texted a friend saying she intended to commit suicide, according to the suit.

Upon receiving the text in early April, the friend alerted a teacher, who then showed the text to other staffers, including Johnson. Johnson then referred it to Tyler.

The suit claims that Tyler “initially put her off,” but eventually conducted a single session with Madison the same day the text was reported. He allegedly had her fill out a questionnaire, then sent her back to class and did not conduct a follow-up session.

Neither Tyler nor Johnson told the Ocheltrees that their daughter had threatened suicide, the suit claims, a violation of the school’s suicide prevention policy and the California Education Code.

In failing to tell them, they also deprived the Ocheltrees the chance to get Madison any sort of counseling, the suit argues.

“They absolutely dropped the ball,” the couple’s attorney Steve Gurnee tells PEOPLE. “They had a very specific policy, it was in effect since April of 2010. … They said they’d take care of it. Well, they didn’t.”

School policy that was in effect at the time of Madison’s death stated that any staff member who suspects or knows that a student has suicidal intentions must notify the principal or counselor, who must then notify the student’s parents or guardians as soon as possible.

The policies were updated in June, and now include additional steps that must be taken when a suicide attempt or threat is reported, like the securing of medical treatment and keeping the student under adult supervision.

Meanwhile, the California Education Code states that parents must be notified if a counselor believes that telling them of discussions with their child could help the student’s health, safety or welfare, the suit says.

“Anybody with common sense would know that the first people that ought to know about a problem with their child should be the parents,” Gurnee says. “The fact that they didn’t, I mean, it’s just incredible.”

District Superintendent Doreen Osumi said in a statement to PEOPLE that the district will respond to the filing “within the process of litigation,” and would not be commenting publicly on a pending lawsuit.

“The subject of this lawsuit is a tragedy that shook our community and left parents, teachers and student grieving and in shock. We join our community in grieving this profound and heartbreaking loss,” the statement read.

The initial complaint was filed in October, with an amended version filed a month later after the school responded that they did not have a duty to report, ABC News reported.

Neither Tyler nor Johnson immediately responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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