Robertson Co. officials to discuss changes to controversial suic - WSMV News 4

Robertson Co. officials to discuss changes to controversial suicide policy

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SPRINGFIELD, TN (WSMV) -

A Middle Tennessee family is calling for Robertson County Schools to change its controversial suicide policy.

The Powells are coming forward just days before administrators are set to discuss possible changes to district protocol. 

Allison Powell, a former student, said she was treated like a criminal after she confided in a school counselor.

“I don’t even know how to describe how it made me feel,” Powell said.

In 2014, Powell was a senior at Springfield High School. She battled depression and had been seeing a therapist regularly.

Powell, now 20, said she suffered a panic attack right before winter break. According to her parents, what Powell told a school counselor changed her senior year.

“Her counselor had asked if she had ever thought about suicide, and she was truthful with them and she said yes,” said Lionel Powell, her father.

Allison Powell said it all happened quickly. She was then brought to the front of the school, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser by a school resource officer, who was a Robertson County Sheriff’s deputy.

Under a Robertson County Schools policy, any student believed to be suicidal must be transported to the hospital by law enforcement.

“People were coming out of the school as they saw me getting handcuffed,” Allison Powell said.

While the Robertson County Schools policy makes no mention of handcuffs, the sheriff’s office policy does.

“Our policy is that absent extenuating circumstances, everyone transported in a patrol vehicle is handcuffed for safety,” Robertson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ryan Martin wrote in a statement.

Allison Powell said the following months were darker than the ones before it. She opted for homeschooling rather than return to class.

“Afterwards, I did try to go back to school, but then the rumors were going around that I got arrested,” Allison Powell said.

The Channel 4 I-Team discovered that Robertson County law enforcement transported 101 students under this policy during 2015. The rules apply regardless of age.

Last month, Jeanne Hux said her 5-year-old son was also transported.

“When I say traumatized, I don’t mean upset. I mean he’s terrified someone is going to take him away that he does not know,” Hux said.

Robertson County Schools Superintendent Mike Davis sat down with the I-Team only after we showed up at a school board meeting earlier this month.

Davis said Hux’s son was not handcuffed, and he was transported in a Jeep instead of a patrol vehicle. He also added under this policy, counselors accompany the students.

“They don’t go by themselves,” Davis said. “We don’t leave them alone. We try to contact the parents. I don’t know what else you suggest I do.”

But Allison Powell said the only person who accompanied her was the deputy driving the cruiser.

Her parents said while the principal called them about their daughter’s comments, no one told them about the policy.

“Did they tell you they would be transporting her to the hospital?” asked Channel 4 reporter Alanna Autler.

“No, they didn’t. They did not,” Lionel Powell said.

“That policy needs to be changed immediately,” said Amy Powell, Allison Powell’s mother. “And if it’s not, heads need to roll. And someone else needs to come in and make new policies.”

Administrators will meet this week with law enforcement officials and mental health advocates to discuss what changes, if any, need to be made.

Some mental health advocates, such as Scott Ridgway of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, have said the procedure could discourage students from speaking up.

Allison Powell agrees. She is now studying psychology at Austin Peay State University, where she hopes she can help others also suffering from depression.

But Powell said she hopes leaders change the policy for the sake of other students still in the system.

“I feel like it might put them into silence and make them not want to tell because of what they had seen,” Allison Powell said.

Robertson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ryan Martin said they’ve argued for some time that the policy is not best practice for patients– and that the office would welcome a change.

The data on transports came from a total of five police agencies in Robertson County.

When the I-Team asked the district about the handcuffs and the fact that Allison Powell was not accompanied by a school representative, spokesman Jim Bellis declined to go into specifics. Instead he referred to a statement that said the district policy had been followed.

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