ALBANY -- Chances are there were some awkward conversations between parents and their kids about sex, drugs and depression in this small town Thursday night, and that was the aim of a panel discussion at the high school -- communication.
It has been a tough six weeks for the small community and district of 3,000 students. Popular Albany Middle School teacher and coach James "Mr. I" Izumizaki was arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with a former student and killed himself days later. Last month, the body of 16-year-old Albany High School senior honors student Cathy Qiu, 16, of Richmond, was identified on a San Mateo County beach. Her family had reported her missing as a runaway, but how she died remains a mystery, although coroner's officials say there are no signs of foul play.
Both events hit the community hard and the district has taken steps to help students, parents and neighbors cope. On Thursday night they hosted a forum, "Choices, Responsibility and Self-Protection for Teenagers," including a psychologist, attorney and psychotherapist, that focused on Izumizaki's death and case, and other teen issues. The Albany High School Little Theater was packed with parents and students.
"The origins of this panel are sad and pretty profound," said Mitch Radin, a psychologist with Berkeley Mental Health Family Youth Services.
"Find a way to talk to your parents, and parents, figure out a way to talk to your kids," Radin said. "It's
An attorney spoke about mandated reporting laws, the age of consent for sex and other legal topics.
"Any adult that works for a school district is mandated by law to report physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect ... if they have reasonable suspicion," said attorney Karen Rezendes.
The panelists spoke mostly in generalizations, but also candidly about the Izumizaki case.
"Nobody can make anybody commit suicide. It's nobody's fault except for the person who commits suicide," Radin said. "Whatever the allegation was, the suicide itself was on Mr. I."
Albany High School principal Ted Barone moderated the panel and updated the crowd on the Izumizaki case, saying police are still investigating, and that the Albany police chief said when the investigation is concluded he would release some version of the report publicly.
In an email to parents and the community, Albany Middle School principal Peter Parenti explained how the community was still reeling over Izumizaki and the panel was meant to help with the healing.
"There continue to be important, and oftentimes difficult, conversations to have around the multiple issues related to the James Izumizaki case," Parenti wrote. "These issues include suicide, depression, student-staff relationships, sexual abuse, staff morale, parent/community awareness, and more."
"These conversations take physical and emotional energy from everyone involved and we can't rush them," he said.
Crisis specialists presented the "Teens For Life" youth suicide prevention curriculum to seventh- and eighth-graders on Wednesday. The program teaches students how to recognize when a friend is depressed or suicidal, and how to get help from a trusted adult or crisis line. Sixth-graders will receive the same presentations later.
Parents and students ended the panel Thursday by writing down questions, which the panel then answered.
"Is it OK for a teacher to drive a student home?"
While not illegal, it's against school policy in most instances, the panel answered.
One father stood up and asked how parents can keep track of their son or daughter after they turn 18.
"When they turn 18 they really are just one day older than 17," he said to laughs from the crowd.
As adults they legally have more privacy rights from parents, but children can sign consent forms for medical records releases, for instance, the attorney said.
Many wondered how teens can identify if they are in an inappropriate relationship themselves.
"I'm a big fan of using your gut," Radin said. "I think most kids know when something feels wrong."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.