A student from Menahga who committed suicide will have a commemorative page in the 2013 yearbook, school board members decided Monday evening.
Several people have asked the board of directors to include a commemorative page for Kyle Kenyon in the directory. Kenyon would have graduated from 2013.
In early October, a group of people took the issue to the media via Facebook. The issue was in the news statewide and nationally. Administrators said they were still making decisions when the problem hit the internet.
Since then, the matter has been referred to the school board and parents and students have been invited to be part of the policy-making process surrounding the contents of the yearbook.
On Monday night, Kenyon’s mother Peggy Havnes asked the board to keep Kyle in mind and said, “I beg you to allow him to be in the directory.”
Mikey Anderson spoke on behalf of the seniors of Menahga who wanted a commemorative page. He conducted a survey of the upper class. The results showed that 21 students wanted a commemorative page, six students did not want a commemorative page, and eight students were neutral on the issue.
“He was my best friend,” Anderson said of Kenyon. “It should be included.”
Patricia Samuelson said the suicide had hit the tight-knit community hard and that she was still in mourning. Samuelson is the parent of a senior class member.
“I am 100 percent in favor,” of including a commemorative page in the directory.
Colleen Frost, from Perham, heard about the problem that Menahga School is going through and wanted to share her take on how to cope with death.
She explained that she had cancer and was told she had a year to live. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and survived the predictions.
“These kids are healing,” Frost said. “… I’m the Kyle team. Let’s remember how he lived, not how he died.”
Patti Starke, executive director of the Mental Health Consumer / Survivor Network of Minnesota, also attended the meeting.
She told the school board that she was ready to donate resources to the school for education about mental illness.
“Death is a very difficult thing,” she said. She implored the council to listen to the children and support their decision.
School administrators presented the board with five options regarding ways to include Kenyon in the yearbook and school activities.
Options included purchasing space in the directory for senior recognition, advertising from sponsors, purchasing additional pages, a senior class photo next to Kenyon’s truck, and inclusion in the slideshow at the graduation.
High school principal Dan Stifter said it was a complex issue and he had done a lot of research. He was worried about the possibility of contagion and the suicide of another student after seeing a memorial.
Superintendent Mary Klamm said the intention was never to exclude Kenyon, but the administration said no to a full-page memorial.
Board members had mixed feelings about the issue and some took issue with the way it was raised on Facebook before the directors had a chance to reach a resolution.
Board member Jon Kangas said there were differing views on contagions, but ultimately said it was about the students and what they wanted to include. He approved a full page memorial for Kenyon.
Board member Ernest Huhta also spoke in favor of a full-page memorial.
“This is the wish of the students,” he said.
Board member Curtis Hasbargen questioned other memorials and whether this decision would prioritize other memorials for teachers, board members or others .
Board member Brad Goehrig has said in the back of his mind that he is worried about the contagion. He was also worried about how the problem was being handled.
“It could have been settled much more peacefully,” he said of the issue forwarded to Facebook.
Board member Al Peterson said he understood both sides of the argument, but was in favor of the commemorative page.
Board chairman Durwin Tomperi said he was also concerned about how the issue was brought to everyone in the media.
The council approved page 4-2 of the memorial, with Goehrig and Hasbargen voting in opposition.
One concern that has been discussed is that an additional commemorative page would cost money. The board is unable to pay for the page. Huhta said several people in the community have already announced that they will donate to the cause.
The discussion then led to the decision to ask the administration to develop language to add to the student manual regarding the contents of the yearbook that could be referred to in the future.
Kenyon’s mother Havnes thanked the board and asked to work with the students to definitively approve the memorial page and photo of her son in the yearbook.