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Incoming Olathe school board member acknowledges sharing false information about suicide in county meeting

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USD233BOEFile

A soon-to-be Olathe school board member is apologizing for making a false claim at a public meeting last week about teenage suicide in Johnson County.

Brian Connell, elected last November to a seat on the Olathe school board, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday with the Olathe Reporter that he had tried to share a lot of information in a short amount of time without prepared remarks and ended up sharing false information. 

The remarks in question were about the toll the pandemic has taken on mental health in children locally. 

“Mental health matters. There may not be any deaths of COVID, but there’s an 800%, 800 times number of suicides this year alone,” Connell said during the public comment section of the Johnson County Commission meeting. “Ask Tim DeWeese, he’s got the numbers and I’ve got them as well.”

That’s not true. 

The local rate of death by suicide in Johnson County youth has declined since the pandemic began. In 2021, the county reported five teen suicides, the same number recorded in 2020. That’s a years-long low, according to data shared over the summer.

"There has absolutely not been an increase in youth suicides at all," the county’s mental health director Tim DeWeese told KMBC-9 last week. "Not 800%, not 0%."

DeWeese could not be reached by the Olathe Reporter for comment. 

FALSE INFORMATION 

Connell told the Reporter he misspoke, something he echoed in a Facebook post he made earlier in the day on Tuesday. 

“Last minute, I tried to push a bunch of information in and misspoke,” he said. “It came out a gobbledygook and false.”  

He said his goal was to communicate about the increase in mental health needs in children locally, but instead shared erroneous information. 

Connell wasn’t the only individual to discuss youth suicides in the pandemic. District 3 commissioner Charlotte O'Hara made less hyperbolic but still misleading information about suicides in teen girls since 2019. She said deaths by suicide had risen more than 50% in that timeframe, which is not true either. 

Health experts generally dismiss as false the notion that masking and other COVID-19 mitigation rules have harmed the mental health of children. 

“The scientific facts and the understanding that we know that masks are safe for adults and children, they do not get health consequences from them,” infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Health System Dr. Dana Hawkinson said during a Facebook Live last week. 

On Thursday, Connell will be sworn in officially as an Olathe school board member after beating incumbent and former board vice president Brian Geary  in the 2021 municipal elections. 

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