A student from Menahga who committed suicide will have a memorial page in the 2013 yearbook, school board members decided on Monday evening.
Several people spoke to the board in favor of including a memorial page for Kyle Kenyon in the yearbook. Kenyon is said to have graduated in 2013.
In early October, a group of people reported the matter to the media via Facebook. The issue made statewide and national news. Admins said they were still making decisions when the issue hit the internet.
The issue has since been brought before the school board and parents and students have been invited to be part of the policy development process surrounding the content of the yearbook.
On Monday night, Kenyon’s mother, Peggy Havnes, asked the council to keep Kyle in mind and said, “Please allow him to be in the yearbook.”
Mikey Anderson spoke on behalf of older people in Menahga who wanted a memorial page. He conducted a survey of the upper class. The results showed that 21 students wanted a memorial page, six students did not want a memorial 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 close-knit community hard and she was still grieving. Samuelson is a parent of a senior class member.
“I am 100% in favour” of including a commemorative page in the yearbook.
Colleen Frost from Perham heard about the problem the Menahga school was going through and wanted to share her views on dealing with death.
She explained that she had cancer and was told she had a year to live. She underwent several cycles of chemotherapy and survived the predictions.
“These kids are healing,” Frost said. “…I’m Team Kyle. 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 has told the school board that she is willing to provide 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 offered five options for the board to consider regarding ways to include Kenyon in the yearbook and school activities.
Options included purchasing yearbook space for senior recognition, advertising 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 concerned about the possibility of contagion and seeing another student commit suicide 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 how it was agitated on Facebook before administrators had a chance to reach a resolution.
Board member Jon Kangas said there were differing opinions on contagions but ultimately he said it was about the students and what they wanted to include . He approved a full-page memorial for Kenyon.
Board member Ernest Huhta was also in favor of a full-page memorial.
“That’s the wish of the students,” he said.
Board member Curtis Hasbargen wondered about other memorials and whether this decision would set a precedent for other memorials for teachers, board members, or others.
Board member Brad Goehrig said deep down he was worried about the contagion. He was also worried about how the problem was being handled.
“This could all have been settled in a much more peaceful way,” he said of the issue on Facebook.
Board member Al Peterson said he understood both sides of the argument but was in favor of the memorial page.
Board chairman Durwin Tomperi said he was also concerned about how the issue was presented to everyone in the media.
The council approved the memorial page 4-2, with Goehrig and Hasbargen voting in opposition.
One concern that was discussed is that an additional memorial page would cost money. The board is unable to pay for the page. Huhta said several people in the community have already said they would donate to the cause.
The discussion then led to a decision to direct the administration to develop language to be added to the student manual regarding yearbook content that may be referenced in the future.
Kenyon’s mother, Havnes, thanked the board and asked to work with the students to make final approval of her son’s memorial page and yearbook photo.