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Cape Breton school board mourns after third student death in the past year

FILE: A Cape Breton school board is looking for way to increase support for students after the death of its third student in a year. TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

The parents of a 13-year-old Cape Breton girl who took her own life on Father’s Day are speaking out about their ordeal, as the local school board also looks for more support in the wake of the deaths of two other students this year.

Chris Royal and Amylynn Wilson of North Sydney, N.S., said bullying led the death of their daughter Madison Wilson and more needs to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen to other young people.

They said their daughter was subject to verbal abuse at school and through social media.

“We are speaking to help other children and other families not to go through what we are going through this week,” Royal said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Wilson said although her daughter had talked to some extent about her problems, both parents had no idea how severe they were. Wilson said other kids have to know that they can talk to others.

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“It’s OK to ask for the help and tell what’s going on, to let it out so they are not keeping it in,” she said.

READ MORE: N.B. mother of suicide victim continues to push for improved mental health services

Darren Googoo, chairman of the Cape Breton Victoria School board, said Wednesday that three students have lost their lives this year and the board is drafting a letter to the provincial Education Department with the idea of starting a dialogue on the issue.

“Our students are dealing with the trauma associated with the loss of a schoolmate and going into the summer months we want to make sure that we have a more co-ordinated approach with our provincial partners in health, in terms of providing services,” Googoo said in an interview.

Googoo said one of the challenges facing schools is that they only provide support services for students from September to June.

“We recognize that there may be some students that will be struggling with this over the summer so we want to make sure there will be services available,” he said.

Googoo added that services are in place in the community that can provide help and it’s a matter of making people aware.

“The mental health unit at the regional hospital is available, there are clinicians, so the mental health model is in place, we just need to make sure that our students are aware of it.”

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READ MORE: Here are 6 things an expert wants you to know about teen mental health and ’13 Reasons Why’

Royal said more should be done to encourage students to come forward to seek help within the school setting.

“They say zero tolerance in the schools and we are told that, but yet it’s not zero tolerance,” he said. “That’s why the kids don’t trust going to the teachers because the next day they are going to face their enemy, anyway.”

Wilson said she believes there is a crisis situation after three deaths in the school district within a six-month period.

In an email Wednesday, the Education Department said it has offered additional supports to the Cape Breton Victoria board.

“We appreciate the concerns expressed by the families and members of our school community,” it said. “We will continue to work closely with the board, our partners in health and justice to help ensure that the school board staff, teachers, students and families are both aware of and have access to the supports and services they need.”

Nova Scotia’s Liberal government has committed to introducing new legislation to replace its pioneering cyberbullying law inspired by the death of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons – although a firm date on when that will happen hasn’t been given.

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Wilson said it should happen as soon as possible.

“If it doesn’t get passed now, is it going to get passed at all? Two months from now is a new school year – it needs to be done now,” she said.

READ MORE: Halifax police chief wants to explore releasing monthly suicide stats

The original CyberSafety Act was struck down by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in December 2015, after Judge Glen McDougall ruled it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The law was passed in May 2013 in response to public outrage over Parsons’ death less than a month earlier. Parsons was 17 when she was taken off life-support after attempting suicide.

The case attracted national attention when her family alleged she had been sexually assaulted in November 2011 at the age of 15 and then repeatedly bullied online after a digital photo of the alleged assault was shared among students at school.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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