Chandler parents sue Chandler Unified over son’s suicide | News

By Ken Sain, GSN Staff Writer
8 Min Read

The parents of a Chandler Unified student who died by suicide are suing school district, saying staff and administration inaction to stop bullying and harassment contributed to their son’s death.

Andrew Harstad, a 15-year-old freshman at Hamilton High School, took his life on May 16, 2022. That death was one of three suicides of CUSD students that month that rocked the district and led to calls from the public for it to do more to combat metal health issues.

“He went from the happiest kid I’ve ever met, so much ambition — he told me he was going to play in the NFL — to slowly less motivated: ‘I don’t want to go to school today,’ ‘I’m no longer interested in football,’” Andrew’s father, Jordan Harstad, told Arizona Family News in an interview. Jordan and his wife Kassidy were unavailable for an interview, however their attorney, Jeffrey Grayson, did pass along a statement.

“We are extremely grateful for your attention in regards to the loss of our son Andrew, and for your investment in bringing awareness to teen suicide and the recent spike in teen bullying and violence in the East Valley. Our hope is to bring awareness to these critical issues and to be a catalyst for change moving forward — we hope that no other family has to endure what we have, and that no other family has to lose a child that could have been saved.”

Grayson argues in the Maricopa County Superior Court lawsuit that Andrew was the victim of bullying from a group of fellow students during his time at Hamilton. 

The family reported the on-campus bullying to police and the district. In November of 2021 Andrew’s parents sought an injunction to protect their son from bullying that was granted.

They notified the district of the injunction, but they claim the district did nothing to help enforce that injunction or to prevent the bullying from continuing.

During a sleepover in February of 2022, a friend gained access to Andrew’s cell phone while he was sleeping. He found some nude photos Andrew apparently took of himself, and photographed them. He then shared them with another friend, who then posted them to social media. Both of those friends were Hamilton High students.

The district said in court papers that the case is without merit, contending that Andrew had stopped attending Hamilton for months prior to his suicide. He had only attended classes for two weeks of that semester.

Andrew’s parents told police that the boy had been battling severe depression and substance abuse, including pills, alcohol, and marijuana for more than a year. They also told police that he had been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.

Kassidy and Jordan Harstad enjoyed happier moments with their son before he took his life.

The district released a statement about the lawsuit:

“We are unable to comment on pending litigation. However, bullying and harassment awareness training occurs in athletics and all CUSD staff are required to undergo annual bullying prevention training. 

“Additionally, as a part of our mental health initiative, we opened the Hope Institute of CUSD, which is a suicide ideation prevention treatment center. CUSD is the only school district in the country to have such a partnership.”

The family did not specify a dollar amount they seek in their wrongful death suit.

“We made every effort humanly possible to make them aware that there were struggles, there were issues, there were things going on,” Kassidy Harstad, Andrew’s mom, told the TV news crew. 

“We went through every hoop you could jump through, or every step you could take that you, as a parent, have. I just feel like we needed more help and support,” she said.

Jordan sent the district an email soon after the nude photos began circulating, saying they wanted to switch Andrew to online learning. They were told that Chandler Online Academy was not accepting full-time students. His counselor said she was not aware the bullying was still going on.

In a police report after the suicide, officers said Jordan told them that night that Andrew had a history of depression and bipolar disorder and had been making suicidal statements for more than a year.

 The parents placed him in an inpatient facility in April. He also told officers he was dealing with alcohol and drug addiction.

Jordan told officers that Andrew stopped going to school because he was being bullied. The boy did leave a message for family and friends. In it, he said that he had unsuccessfully tried to kill himself one year before.

“By no means are we saying that they’re 100% to blame for Andrew passing by suicide,” Jordan said. “But with their policies, with their stance on anti-bullying, we believe that they share in the responsibility and that their action and inaction contributed.”

Lawyers for the district argue, “Put simply, the District is not subject to wrongful-death liability to Andrew’s parents — who knew infinitely more about his preexisting mental-health issues and suicide risk — just because school had naturally been part of his social world.”

In his final message, Andrew tried to offer hope to others, especially the many kids like himself who he said were dealing with the same problems. He urged them to keep on pushing and he asked others to be kind. He called himself a coward for taking his own life.

“No more bullying,” Andrew wrote. 


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By Ken Sain, GSN Staff Writer , – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article , 2024-03-17 07:00:00
Tags: chandler unified school district, andrew harstad, hamilton high school, chandler news, chandler breaking news, chandler unified lawsuits, cusd lawsuits, chandler schools

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