JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — More than 1,600 people have signed a Change.org petition asking for more accountability from Jeffco Public Schools after a FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation into a student suicide revealed the school had specific information about the teen that his father says could have helped prevent his son’s death.
“The school had information that they chose not to act on. They could have done more than they did,” said Sam Craig, a recent graduate of Chatfield Senior High School and a student activist who helped circulate the petition.
“It’s impossible to put…sole responsibility in any one place, but I do believe that if the school could have taken more steps and acted on what they knew…we could have potentially intervened,” he said.
Caden Williamson died last May when he crashed his car into a pole while high on LSD and THC.
Williamson’s girlfriend’s mother said she told the school about Williamson’s LSD use prior to the deadly incident, but Williamson’s father said the school never relayed the information to him.
“When you find out that people you trusted knew and they could have done things to help you, it makes it that much worse,” said Brock Williamson, Caden’s father.
Williamson’s classmates said they felt upset when they learned more about the situation through FOX31’s reporting.
“We had a class meeting the day that the (FOX31) article came out, and (the school) didn’t say anything to us. They just completely pretended like basically nothing had happened — that everything was fine – and everyone in that room knew it wasn’t fine. That’s all anyone had been talking about all day at school,” said Heather Maddy, a senior at Chatfield Senior High who was friends with Williamson.
Maddy said she signed the petition because she wants more answers from the school.
“We want them to just acknowledge that this is happening instead of just pushing it to the side,” she said.
The petition, which includes at least one signature from a Chatfield Senior High teacher as well as current and former students and their parents, asks for Jeffco Public Schools to “conduct an investigation” and “to place all involved parties on administrative leave.”
District officials said Brock Williamson notified them that he might file a lawsuit, so they declined to answer questions about the circulating petition or about how they handled his son’s death.
“I think the ultimate message…is just demanding a little bit more accountability from the administration,” said Craig. “Just looking at what could have been done, what wasn’t done, where was the ball dropped? Those are just the basic questions.”
Craig, Maddy and another current student, Anna Pierce said they all believe the school could do more to provide students resources related to mental health needs and drug abuse.
“I don’t want to just cry (to the school counselor) and then wipe my tears and go back to class,” Pierce said. “I want someone that I can talk to that can give me advice because we don’t know what we’re doing at this age. This is trial and error.”
Dr. Susan Leach, the chief student success officer for Jeffco Public Schools said, this year, she believes the school is doing “a really good job” when it comes to addressing the needs of students.
“We are constantly evaluating and working on a continuous improvement cycle because we want to do what’s best…I’m very proud of the work that Jeffco is doing,” Leach said.
Leach said she feels like the district is leading the way in the Denver metro area when it comes to encouraging healthy lifestyles for students.
“I feel like we have a really comprehensive set of services and school teams that all work well together, and I think that in public education, we can always say we need more…but I really think we’re leading the way in this work,” she said.
Leach said this year, funding enabled the district to employ a full-time school nurse at every high school. A few years ago, full-time nurses were only staffed in three high schools.
“Some of the responsibility of that nurse is to be a liaison for students to outside resources if they have a drug abuse or use problem,” Leach said. “We’ve had a lot of those students self-referring and saying, ‘I think I need to talk to somebody about this,’” she said.
Leach said the district has a drug intervention and prevention coordinator that works with schools, and she encourages students to get involved with the student health advisory committee.
Despite the services that are offered, including a social emotional counselor, students said they believe drug use is frequent on campus.
“A bunch of kids at school are doing (LSD),” said Maddy. “I know that there’s a huge circle of it in our school, and it kind of puts guilt on me for not saying anything, and I know that in the moment, these things, you don’t expect them to happen. You don’t think that not saying anything is going to hurt someone that bad — it’s going to be this catastrophic — but then it happens, and you can’t help but feel guilty.”
Pierce said she once witnessed a girl ordering cocaine at school. She said it is common to see other students posting videos and photographs on Snapchat of marijuana and alcohol.
“It’s kind of like the norm now,” she said.
Pierce said the school focuses too much on punishment rather than promoting healthy behavior. She said she would encourage the school and parents to build better relationships with their students.
“Talk to them and tell them it’s OK to mess up,” she said. “Don’t focus it on the punishment aspect – like, ‘If I catch you doing this, there’s going to be consequences,’ – be like, ‘If I catch you doing this, I’m going to help you. Like, I’m going to be there to support you through it all.’”