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Memorial prompts board soul searching
Times photo: Tere Dunlap A tree was recently planted in Tyler Pierces memory near the baseball diamond in Juda.

JUDA - Juda School Board delayed action Wednesday, following closed session discussion on whether to accept a $2,000 donation in the name of an graduate who committed suicide earlier this year.

"We are anticipating a donation. We are reviewing our policy in case that should come about," said Deena Atkins, the school board's clerk.

Tyler Pierce, 20, a 2009 Juda graduate and a sophomore at UW-Whitewater, died as a result of self-inflicted gun shot wound in late March near Juda.

Friends and family of Pierce held a fundraiser in Tyler's honor this past month, raising the $2,000. But Pierce's mother, Kathy Pierce of Juda, said Superintendent Phil Updike refused to accept the donation "at this time" because of the circumstances surrounding his death.

According to Pierce, who works for The Times front office, school officials are concerned such a donation could encourage another student to commit suicide. Still, Updike declined to say whether the delay is related to the circumstances of Tyler's death. Research on other schools' donation policies is expected to be ready for the board meeting in September, he added.

Pierce said the donation could be accepted if donated in the name of the family, or for some other reason.

"But that's not what I want," she said.

The Pierce family is considering establishing a recurring scholarship fund for their son, whom they say was active in many sports during his years at Juda High School. At the same board meeting Wednesday, a classmate of Tyler's, Veronica Bartels, requested more suicide prevention education at the school.

Bartels said suicide and suicide attempts "do not get enough attention anywhere," are misunderstood, and carry a social stigma.

Bartels said she was speaking from experience because she had attempted suicide in high school and was diagnosed with depression.

"I thought the feeling would last forever," she said. "I didn't know there was treatment for it."

Bartels said she was advised to change schools and drop classes, as well as "hushed" and told not to talk about her experiences. She said she was also told she wouldn't be allowed to participate on a class trip to Puerto Rico, because she presented an insurance risk - until she threatened to sue the school. After hearing about Tyler's death, however, she said she has made it her objective to raise awareness of suicide.

"We need the taboo of speaking about it to stop," she said.

Bartels noted her classmates' attempt to plant a tree in Tyler's memory on the school grounds, which was refused. That tree eventually was planted at the Juda Community Park near the ball diamond.

"Memorials do not increase suicidal thoughts," she said. "Memorials are not for the deceased or to celebrate death," but for those who are left behind to remember them, she added.