Parents Sue School After Teen Takes Her Own Life

77901526Family members describe Johanna “JoJo” Lowe as a happy, outgoing, popular eighth-grader at Tuskawilla Middle School in Florida.

She certainly had the right resume. On track, cross-country, and student council, JoJo also played the lead in a video her production class made about suicide.

On camera, JoJo pretended to overdose on pills and pass out.

Cut to a few weeks later when JoJo’s boyfriend broke up with her. On November 23, 2010 the seemingly happy teen locked herself in her bedroom and hanged herself in her closet.

Her family was shocked. JoJo had never shown any signs that her life would end in such a way. As the Orlando Sentinel reports, the year before she died she’d written the following for a class assignment: “My goal in life is to finish school and college. I want to go to the army and serve my country for six years. Then join the police force. Then after I plan on getting married. I want to have two kids. One boy and one girl.”

It wasn’t until after JoJo’s death that her mother found out about the suicide video from a friend of her daughter’s. So Eliette Piorkowski hired attorney Eric Faddis and filed a lawsuit against the Seminole County School board and JoJo’s production teacher, Eric Fife, for failing to get permission for JoJo to star in the video acting out her own death. According to Faddis, the video glamorized and sensationalized suicide and “substantially contributed to her death,” Faddis wrote in a letter to the School Board. “Your respective conduct in authorizing the video’s production … is outrageous and intolerable in a civilized society.”

In the latest hearing this month, School Board attorney Robert Bonner argued that the case should be dismissed, because JoJo did not kill herself at school or under her teacher’s supervision. “Just because it’s unfortunate and sad doesn’t mean there’s a cause of action,” Bonner told a judge.

Losing a child is the worst thing any human being can experience, so I’m not here to say what I would or wouldn’t do in a similar situation. But does a 13-year-old swing from one end of the spectrum to the other because of a suicide prevention video? I just don’t think participating in a video would have played a “substantial” role in Johanna’s decision to take her own life. Clearly something else was wrong.

Perhaps JoJo’s teacher was negligent in not getting parental permission for her to appear in the video, but it isn’t worth ruining his life over. His intentions were good and his actions certainly weren’t “outrageous and intolerable in a civilized society.”

Saying that a video like this glamorizes suicide is giving teens far less credit than they deserve. Because if we really believe they would perceive a suicide prevention video as “cool” we should probably start bonfires to burn every copy of Romeo and Juliet in existence.

At the end of the day, while I think the loss of life here is absolutely devastating, JoJo and JoJo alone decided to end her life in her own bedroom. I feel for her parents, but suing the school and JoJo’s teacher seems to be a case of misplaced grief.

What about you? If you were JoJo’s mom, would you sue? Why or why not?


photo credit: thinkstock

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