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Dad of a dead Richland student is seeking graduation approval

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After a 2022 class at Hanford and Richland High School graduates in a few weeks, one chair remains empty among hundreds of robed seniors.

The seat symbolizes all students in the graduation class who died before reaching the milestone.

But for a Tri-Cities father, that’s not enough. An unnamed, undecorated, bare, or unheard-of chair.

Jim Chastain died in 2021 of his 17-year-old son Kaeran Chastain in suicide. He was a third year student at Hanford High School and was scheduled to graduate this year.

“No one knows what the chair is for,” Chastain, 51, told Tricity Herald. “It doesn’t mean anything. When nothing is said about it, it’s a kind of empty gesture.”

Jim Chastain and his wife, Miriam, each have tattoos in honor of their 17-year-old son, Kaeran Chastain, who committed suicide in February 2021.Bob Brody bbrawdy@tricityherald.com

Six fathers, the school district needs to do more to recognize Caelan and others in the class who did not attend the ceremony, even with small gestures like reading the name aloud. Say there is.

Some school districts have long and often unwritten policies about not allowing students to commit suicide at graduation.

According to recent CDC data, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children aged 10-14 years and the third leading cause of death for children aged 15-24 years. The proportion of young people in Washington remains higher than the national average.

Chastain, in particular, said Richland had lost several students to suicide in the last two years.

However, schools must be in harmony with the debate about suicide and the state of youth mental health.

Ty Beaver of the Richland School District said: Communication director.

Having one vacant seat is like a compromise for the family, often still in the midst of sadness, and a compromise for high school managers planning an event. ..

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Caelan Chastain

But there were exceptions.

At Hanford’s 2018 ceremony, photos, ball caps, alumni caps, and gowns were hung in memory of Dometri Kennedy Woody, who drowned two weeks before accepting his diploma.

Beaver said the instances were different and still painfully fresh in the minds of the Student Organization.

Chastain said the school district was even opposed to mentioning his son’s name at the graduation ceremony, despite having talked with Hanford’s manager for over a week.

Chastain said he and his family would not attend on June 10 unless somehow acknowledged.

“If they say something, it would be very difficult, but remembering our son would be worth the pain,” Chastain said. “The last few years have been really hard and it’s not just my boy who got lost.”

Student support

Last month, Chastain discovered that his family wasn’t the only one in their belief that Kaeran and others like him deserved recognition.

“I was listening to my boy on YouTube. I searched Google for another video clip of my boy and found the petition instead,” he said. “There are a lot of different emotions that hit me.”

This was an online Change.org petition initiated by some of Caelan’s classmates just a few weeks ago.

“At the time of graduation, the school secured” vacant seats “in honor of the students who passed, but because Kaeran’s death was suicide, they decided not to give him a seat,” his family said. A photo of his seat.

Already signed by nearly 1,600 students, teachers and others, some say they know him and others don’t.

Some parents lost their children to suicide.

“My son Tyler also died of suicide. Stop the stigma behind mental illness,” said one mother.

“Obviously, the school doesn’t understand suicide,” another woman wrote. “It was a medical condition that caused this. Would you like to refuse a seat in memory of a student who died in a cancer or car accident? Refusing to take a seat in this student’s memory does not eliminate his suicide, which is his It is harmful to family and friends and is disadvantageous …. “

Their comments and thoughtfulness overwhelmed Jim Chastain and his family.

“It’s one of the more important things I’ve ever thought of,” he said.

Chastain Caelan Urnanimals.jpg
Jim Chastain and his wife Miriam keep the cremation box of 17-year-old Kaeran Chastain, a third-year student at Hanford High School who committed suicide in February 2021, in his living room in Richland. They are fighting for “vacant seats” in the hope that his son’s graduation will remind him of his life.Bob Brody bbrawdy@tricityherald.com

“His classmates were the ones who started the petition and it had a big impact on us. They cared. For his classmates, it feels like that. He was important. And I want him to admit that he was there and that he was important, “Chastain continued.

After the discovery, Jim Chastain contacted the school district to see if anything would work.

According to Chastain, Principal Tory Kristensen and other district administrations are an initiative at the University of Washington that specializes in “individuals and communities taking sustainable actions, supporting systematic change, and regaining hope.” I met with an advisor to the Frontline Suicide Prevention Program.

On Thursday, Kristensen informed him that he would set the usual precedent of having only one chair at graduation, but would not mention Kaeran.

Chastain said they were worried that they wouldn’t even admit the existence of his son. They don’t need to mention how he died, but at least he should acknowledge his existence.

Disputation of non-stigma

In a 2016 keynote, Professor James Mazza of the University of Washington’s Faculty of Psychology said there was a great deal of disgrace in discussing suicide. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to bring awareness to the problem.

He also says that in some schools it may be important to mourn students who have died as well, regardless of how they died. The point of discussing suicide should not be to be stigmatized or attractive.

Parents often do not know when their child is about to take their lives, but often there are signs.

At the request of some states, public schools require students, staff, teachers, and in some cases parents, to be trained to recognize student distress.

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Caelan Chastain Jim Chastain

More than a year later, Chastain remembers his son and continues to mourn.

The whole family has animal-themed nicknames — ducks, monkeys, cats, turtles, and pandas.

Kaeran, born in December, was named “Penguins”. Jim and his wife, Miriam, had a penguin tattoo after his death. Penguin tools also surround his urn at home.

The family continues to make sure their “penguins” stay alive, but it was hard.

“In a sense, you relive the pain of losing a child every day without a child,” he said. “Every time you think,’Kaeran really wants this’,’What does he think about this’, or sometimes (it) is silence in the house.

“But if that absence makes sense for just a moment, I can’t tell you how much it will affect both my wife and me.”

Get help

Here’s where to ask for help and advice:

  • Lourdes Health Crisis Services (509-783-0500).
  • Comprehensive Healthcare Crisis Line 800-572-8122.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK or 800-273-8255 for English, 888-628-9454 for Spanish).
  • Crisis text line: 741-741 from text “START”
  • Send the text “START” to LGBTQ Youth Trevor Project: 866-488-7386 or 678-678.

Eric Rosane's profile picture

Eric Rosane is a citizen accountability reporter who joined Tri-City Herald in February 2022. Previously, he was in charge of education, county government, and state legislature at the Daily Chronicle in Lewis County. He graduated from Central Washington University in 2018.

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