Rose Rodinelli, a 14-year-old who died by suicide last September, was omitted from her high school yearbook — and her family is upset about the oversight.
Rose’s mother, Beth Rondinelli, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the Pennsylvania teen suffered from Lyme disease and an undiagnosed autoimmune disease called PANDAS, causing her to be anxious and depressed. And although she remained her upbeat and funny self in front of friends and family, she was quietly struggling.
“We had tried different medications and they didn’t help her. I feel like we kind of ran out of time,” Beth says. “I guess the struggle got too tough for her and she couldn’t see that at some point it would pass with the right medicine. And she ended her life in September.”
Since that time, the Rondinelli family, Rose’s 19-year-old sister Rachel included, have been trying to memorialize Rose in various ways.
“Rachel has been an advocate for Rose and for mental health. She’s spoken to three of the high schools in Downingtown County. She has spoken at school board meetings and other events to discuss the fact that people need to be aware,” Beth explains, adding that there’s not enough awareness of mental health among students. “[Rachel] gets it. She’s their age and they can talk to her, she can talk to them.”
However, when both Rachel and her mom made an effort to bring more events to Downingtown High School East, where Rose attended, the administration allegedly said no. Beth says they’ve attempted to hand out roses to the freshman class, run a fundraiser with the school’s mental health club and put money toward a bench to commemorate Rose and the lives of other students who have lost their lives to suicide, but the school has “been shutting us out completely.”
The final straw came just last week when the yearbooks were handed out and Rachel — who already graduated from the same high school — came home crying after finding out from a friend that her sister hadn’t been included in it.
“My family was very hurt,” Beth says, “and Rachel wanted to do something about it.”
Rachel tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she got in touch with the school’s student-run yearbook committee to ensure that her sister’s omission wasn’t a mistake.
“The excuse that they gave me was that their advisor told me there was no room in the yearbook,” Rachel says. “14 letters [spelling Rose’s name] could’ve easily fit in the not pictured section.”
Since that didn’t happen, Rachel decided to find a way to make sure that Rose’s photo would make it into everyone’s yearbooks. So she and 16 friends created pages with Rose’s name and picture on them to be inserted onto page 59 where she would’ve been included, and handed them out to students as they exited the building.
“This wasn’t fair to Rose, she’s not here to defend herself,” Beth says. “So her big sister, in the fashion that she’s always exhibited throughout Rose’s life, she’s got her back. That’s something that the school can’t say. They don’t have their backs.”
The school hasn’t directly contacted the Rondinelli family regarding the matter. A spokesperson for the Downingtown Area School District sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:
DHS East and the Downingtown Area School District continue to mourn the loss of Rose Rondinelli. She was a very special person and is deeply missed by her friends and staff members throughout the district. Rose died shortly before student photos of each class were taken on September 11, 2018. These school photos have traditionally been placed in the back of the Senior Class yearbook.
Rose will long be remembered, and we cherish the contributions she made to DASD in her short life. We regret any pain we inadvertently caused the Rondinelli family. Our tradition has always been to include all deceased students in the yearbook of what would have been their senior year. Rose’s photo will be included in the class yearbook of 2022.
Rachel, however, doesn’t think reserving space for Rose in the 2022 yearbook is a solution.
“Students don’t forget another student who died during the year that you were there. I don’t think that that’s possible,” Rachel says. “There are students in that school that don’t have anything from her. And the only thing that they could’ve had was a picture in the yearbook that they’d be able to have with them for the rest of their lives.”
She and her mother say that the lack of action on the school’s behalf sends a poor message to students about mental health.
“They say every student matters, but Rose didn’t matter to them,” Beth states. “It’s a horrible message to say if you have a mental illness, you don’t matter. If you make the choice to end your life because you’re in so much pain, you don’t deserve to be recognized as a student.”
However, thanks to Rachel’s efforts — as well as a number of Rose’s classmates who helped to hand out the page 59 insert — Beth says, “It’s so nice to know that Rose is in the yearbook with them now.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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