Via America’s Lawyer: Attorney and former DC council member LaRuby May joins Mike Papantonio to walk us through a case of child suicide at a DC charter school. 12 year-old Stormiyah Denson-Jackson was a target of bullying and eventually found dead in her dorm room. Internal emails show that while DC had in fact mandated that schools provide mental health resources to students, the SEED charter school chose NOT to abide by this requirement, likely contributing to the death of Stormiyah.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             In 2018 a young student took her own life at the SEED Charter School in Washington, DC. In lawsuit filed earlier this year, the parents or the child alleged that the school did nothing to prevent the constant bullying their daughter suffered, and that’s only the tip of the problem. That’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s only a small part of the story. Joining me to talk about this lawsuit and the information that’s already been uncovered is attorney LaRuby May. LaRuby, let me, this, this case, it seems like over a period of the last five years, America’s Lawyer has done half a dozen of these stories. Child committing suicide in a setting where the people in control didn’t have control. This is a charter school.

LaRuby May:                         Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             And we already know all the fundamental problems with the charter school. Tell us this story. Just, just lay this out for the viewers.

LaRuby May:                         You know, in, in January on January 23rd, 2018 Stormiyah Denson-Jackson, 12 year old, it was at SEED Public Charter School, which is a boarding school in the district of Columbia. And, that morning, Stormiyah was found hanging in, in her dorm room until.

Mike Papantonio:             What were the, as I looked at the background of this case, there were all of these warnings that took place at the school. First of all, the, the psychology, the psychiatrist that they had following her, it wasn’t even a psychiatrist.

LaRuby May:                         She wasn’t licensed, it wasn’t a licensed psychologist.

Mike Papantonio:             Wasn’t licensed. They were a psychologist of sort, unlicensed. The child came out and said, I don’t have any reason to live.

LaRuby May:                         Yeah. No, so, so Stormiyah expressed her suicidal ideation to the people in charge, to the people that she was supposed to and they brought her to the site and as you mentioned, an unlicensed psychologist who did a suicide assessment on her and deemed her low risk. And to what we, what we know right now is in the country, African American children between the ages of 10 and 15 are one of the highest rates of, of increase of suicide, so.

Mike Papantonio:             Between, what are the ages?

LaRuby May:                         It’s like between the ages of like 10 and 15, middle school age children. Right. And the poorer you are, the economics play into it. And so when she came to the school, she was low risk. So when they did the suicide assessment, you had probably the most egregious nature of them doing the suicide assessment is as she exhibited suicidal ideation. They did a survey on her and never notified mom of the suicidal ideation or that they even did a survey on the child.

Mike Papantonio:             Okay, here’s where it gets, here’s where it gets really weird to me.

LaRuby May:                         Okay.

Mike Papantonio:             The, there’s, there’s laws in DC.

LaRuby May:                         Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             And the laws are very clear that a public school has to follow. If you see A, then you must do B. If you see B, you must do C. You must have licensed people that are making estimations of whether this child is at risk. That was thrown out the door because this is a charter school.

LaRuby May:                         Well, it was, it was thrown out the door because this school is serving a population of poor black children. So that’s why these things are thrown out the door. But then in the district of Columbia, we have a law called the US suicide prevention act because we know how many urban children are now committing suicide. In 2015 passed a law that says every teacher, everyone encountering our children must take suicide prevention training and at SEED Public Charter School, prior to Stormiyah death, zero people, not a single person at the school took the suicide prevention training. Even though we have evidence of a case that’s also pending against the school of another 12 year old who tried to commit suicide prior to Stormiyah.

Mike Papantonio:             Tell me, tell me, if you would, give me how outrageous the conduct was of the school when, when people started asking questions.

LaRuby May:                         So the, the, the, the school, I think we have to kind of go back not only of the conduct of the school, but of the authorizer of the charter school board of the school that the school didn’t do the training. The school didn’t care to do the training. Like I said, that there was a, we’ve evidence of another, a pending lawsuit of a child maybe six months before Stormiyah who attempted suicide. And even after that child in the school attempted suicide, still no one at the school felt that it was okay that they needed to do suicide prevention training to make sure that their teachers or their psychologist were equipped.

Mike Papantonio:             What are the documents showing? If you just say, just give me in every case like this there’s sometimes there’s outrageous documents and you go, when a jury sees this, they’re going to be really angry.

LaRuby May:                         Okay.

Mike Papantonio:             Are there, is, does that exist there?

LaRuby May:                         Yeah, there’s some document, I think probably the most outrageous document that’s out there is, SEED Public Charter School is authorized by the charter school board and the executive director of the charter school board sent out an email that said basically, I’m not going to, when the law came out, the suicide prevention, said I’m not going to enforce it. I’m not going to penalize any school that doesn’t enforce it. And what we, what we know is that the school reform act in the district of Columbia is what created the charter school board and what the charter school world says is, hey, you know what?

We’re not like the regular public school. We have autonomy. We can do what we want. We can regulate ourselves. We can make independent decisions on laws that are in the district of Columbia and what we find out in Stormiyah’s case is when adults decide to, to interpret the law the way they want to, children suffer unnecessarily.

Mike Papantonio:             So, the interesting thing about this is, I was looking at this as, you were actually involved in creating some of those laws that said, if you are in, a school must do these things because we have this huge problem of children within this age group that basically a lot because of despair, economic despair, end up committing suicide along with a lot of other factors, but economic despair is certainly one of them. So you helped author that. Then all of a sudden the, for some reason the charter schools think that they’re above the law. I don’t get that.

LaRuby May:                         They just believe that autonomy means that they can make their own independent decisions and so that they don’t have to follow the law. And we’re very clear that, Councilman David Grosso introduced the legislation. I was very fortunate to support the legislation that said, because of the rising number of suicides among African American middle school aged children, we’re going to require that teachers and staff members have suicide prevention training so that we can prevent children from committing suicide. And not only did the school not do the training, but the authorizer who funds the school said, you know what? It’s okay. It’s put it over there in the pile. We don’t care if you enforce the law. And unfortunately, today we’re standing with the loss of life of an amazing young lady.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, and she was amazing.

LaRuby May:                         Yeah.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. We, I want to follow this story as it goes on. As your trial gets closer, let’s do this story again. Let’s see whether the SEED organization, the charter school organization owns up to what they’ve done here. Thank you for joining me. Okay.

LaRuby May:                         No problem. Thank you.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.