April 23rd, 2009
08:40 PM ET

Bullied to death: Addressing harassment and suicide prevention in schools

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2007/LIVING/personal/09/06/bullies/art.classroom.gi.jpg]Charles Robbins, Executive Director & CEO, The Trevor Project and
Eliza Byard, PhD, Executive Director, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network

The impacts of language and behavior can be deadly, especially in a school environment where young people are already highly impressionable and vulnerable. Unfortunately, this difficult lesson has been conveyed many times when young people resort to drastic and permanent measures to escape the despair of enduring constant bullying and harassment at school.

It is deeply disturbing that on April 6, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from Springfield, Mass., hanged himself with an extension cord in his family’s home after being subjected to continuous anti-gay bullying and harassment at his middle school. It is equally as disheartening that on April 16, less than two weeks later, Jaheem Herrera, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from DeKalb County, Ga., also hanged himself at home after being the subject of anti-gay taunts from his classmates. These were two completely separate and isolated instances, but the tragic and preventable nature of each unfortunate loss of life remains the same.

Neither Carl nor Jaheem identified as gay, yet their peers’ defamatory language and hurtful behaviors broke the barriers of sexual orientation and gender identity. Being taunted as “faggot,” “queer” or “homo” by classmates is offensive and demeaning to any student – straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning alike.

Carl is the fourth middle school student this year to complete suicide due to bullying, and Jaheem was still in elementary school. Older students are also at a high risk, as suicide is one of the top three causes of death among 15 to 24-year-olds and the second leading cause of death on college campuses. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and those who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to do so.

Two of the top three reasons secondary school students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. In addition, The Trevor Project fields tens of thousands of calls from young people each year, both straight and LGBT-identified, with rejection and harassment by peers being one of the top five issues reported by callers.

In the same GLSEN and Harris report, more than a third of middle and high school students said that bullying, name-calling and harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at their school. Furthermore, two-thirds of middle school students reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41% said they felt safe at school.

Enough is enough. It is time for school administrators, educators, parents, students and the government to work together to stop bullying and harassment in schools. Furthermore, we must teach young people to understand the profound impact of words and actions, and to recognize depression and suicidal ideations amongst their peers. By helping young people take responsibility for their actions and respect their peers, and simultaneously empowering them with the knowledge and skills they need to understand when their classmates are in crisis, we can work toward ending the dual epidemics of school bullying and youth suicide once and for all.

We as parents, teachers and concerned citizens can do our part to protect students by speaking out and demanding that anti-bullying and harassment programs and suicide prevention education are mandated in all schools. We can seek commitment from the government to end bullying by training educators on how to effectively intervene, teaching students to respect and help one another, and ensuring that all students know how to reach out to a peer who may be in crisis. We must lead by example and remember that the language we choose is easily repeated by young people. We must listen to children when they reach out for help, and demonstrate to them that we will be understanding and non-judgmental if they need to talk.

Days like the GLSEN-sponsored National Day of Silence bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. On this day, thousands of students call for practical, appropriate interventions that work, hoping to move us closer to a future where every child can go to school free from fear. Weeks including the National Suicide Prevention Week encourage programs to increase suicide prevention efforts, including initiatives supported by The Trevor Project to protect LGBT youth.

It is our hope that in memory of Carl and Jaheem, and in honor of all young people who have completed suicide after enduring constant torment at school, we will be able to work together to promote school environments that celebrate diversity and encourage acceptance of all people. Only then will we be confident that our children are receiving the respect and education they deserve today in order to become the successful and equality-minded leaders of tomorrow.

The Trevor Project is the non-profit organization that operates the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. The Trevor Project was established in 1998 to promote acceptance of LGBTQ youth, and to aid in crisis and suicide prevention among that group.

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Filed under: Education • Gay & Lesbian Issues
soundoff (181 Responses)
  1. A Peeayngee

    please, someone, did anyone consider how the bully carries his own personal pain, and how he, himself, has feelings of low self worth and not fitting in? Bullies pick on the vulenerable to boost their own feelings of despair. Instead, why not tell the bullied person that the bully has his own shortcomings, and is an insecure twit such that he has to gain power by picking on him. We have to help the bullied to cope, clear his mind, and see that they are not the victims. Tell him
    not to give power to words like gay. Help him not to succumb and be strong like a pillar with a solid foundation. Secondly, the bully has to be identified and counseled – through self-help courses...to elevate his own self esteem. Siging an anti-bully petition is NOT the answer...rather,.we have to dig down to identify the root of the bully's own pain and suffering, inorder to heal. Otherwise, the bully won't stop – his pain will simply be suppressed and then it will rear its ugly hatred later with more aggression.

    April 24, 2009 at 3:01 am |
  2. Daryl D. Dille

    At the ripe old age of 61, I still get harassed. I have been active with a local Arts Council for about 10 years. I've been a member of the board of directors and directed, produced, staged, and lighted all of our summer melodramas for eight of those years and worked closely with our large stage winter productions each year. To my disappointment, for the last three years, my reputation has been smudged, and my personal integrity have been called into question by adult men and women associated with these productions saying I am Gay, and I have (behind the scenes) attempted to take advantage of several of the youthful cast members and stage crew. These individuals have not been able to prove any of it, but have ganged together to bully and harass me to the point where this year I resigned from the board. It would appear to me that the problem is not the kids, but the well wishing religious right adults that can't watch a divorced single man succeed. I'm fed up with it.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:44 am |
  3. Susan Miller

    although it was many years ago , I graduated in.1973. Every day of my grade school at recess I was badly beatin by 8 girls! And thats every recess! the school was notified my parents, to get me some help, but my parents had just lost a son to the viet nam war. they couldn't deal with anything extra. I also lost my best friend when he Died. And those bullies took atvantige of that all the way. At school i Could not study, I would get nervise, and if said any thing i would always something wrong. then when we got to jr high and high school' it got worse they always. There parents bought there way into cheer leeading and any thing therehearts wanted. but all I got was jipped out of my educattion!!!!!!. Later on I got to see what they didn with there lives, one was a 400lbs , one was on her 10th marrage, etc

    April 24, 2009 at 2:31 am |
  4. Elizabeth

    My deepest sympathy are with both these families. My heart goes out to both families. This is so alive and I have been going through this same problem with my 14year old daughter. She told me the problem started back in September where a group of girls were bullying her. I spoke to Vice principal, Principal, Dean of students. She even spoke to the school social worker. And nothing was done. I took it a little further and took it to the board of education. Plenty of times I spoke to all these officals my daughter spoke to teachers. What made it even worst was when my daughter was telling me that teachers witness these girls bullying her all the time. It got to the point where my daughter has 14 days absent about 20 early dismissals. She didnt even want to attend school any more. Her dad got so upset went into the school and was so upset the Principal called the police on him Saying he was threating to take matters into his own hands. That didnt stop the girls the bullying continued it got so bad. I had to notify the police they went to the school they thought everything was under control. The board of education called the principal and notified him to remove my child from the cluster that she was in. the principal did not do as he was asked my daughter took matters into her own hands she seen one of the girls by herself and fought the girl. I was called to the school for the Dean of Students not the Principal because he couldnt face me to tell me that my daughter was suspended for 10 days and arrested. The principal wanted my daughter to get arrested for third degree assault. When the officer heard our story and confirmed it he said I have to sumons her but for disorderly conduct.
    I notified the Board of Education to let him now for him to tell me 4 days later. That he would handle it. Then I received a letter from the Vice Principal telling me that my daughter was moved from her cluster. She has a 10 day suspension on her record and disorderlly conduct. No we are sorry that she going to counseling because she trust no one in her school or believes in Board of Education helping her nothing. I believe if she was moved or if everyone had done there jobs correctly this would've never happened.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:12 am |
  5. J Angelo

    I myself many years ago in the middle 60's experienced this behavior directed to me for most of my jr high and high school year. I was an art student , slim and not very good at athetics. I was called ,gay,fag, homo etc almost every day. This along with frequent beatings,hassassments and made me very aware of how to survive in such a hostile atmosphere. My parents did their best to protect me, informing school officials but that did little in those years to stop the terror.

    There were some sympathetic teachers who understood the problem and their classrooms were havens where you had a safe enviornment free of fear.

    Those years had a profound effect on me, to this day I recall vividly the days I had to run from the scholl bus to my home because I was being persued by a jock who wanted to beat me up because I was too weak to have any chance of fighting back. You become very aware of your person;attuned to verbal abuse and develope a wall against it. I cannot tell you how many nights Iay aware dreading the coming school day for fear of my life. The people who are responsible for this sort of behavior are in many cases encouraged by macho ideas instilled in them to excell in sports ,and all things masculine. If you don't then you are fair game. In my opinion a good healthly punch in the nose causing a nice bloody nose goes a long way to teach bully's there are consequences for their actions.

    If I had it to do over again I would force myself to be very physically fit , lift weights and be able to defend myself and retaliate when you are harassed. This horror stays with you your entire life.I still dream of it and it's been almost 50 years.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  6. Justin

    Dear Anderson,

    Tears were in my eyes while I was watching your report on the death of Jaheem in Atlanta. My heart and thoughts go to his family. Bullying in schools and workplaces are equally damaging. I am an adult and has recently took up a job at a large university as a junior professor. A few months into my new job, I found myself a target of a treacherous academic bully, who twists facts and truth in an effort to control. I was physically and emotionally consumed by the bully in a few weeks, yet, as I later found, everyone except for myself, knew what would happen to me even before my arrival. The administration helped a bit when I complained, but no substantial actions have been taken to restrain the bully. Thankfully, I sought external help in good time and never stayed silent or isolated, as the bully tried aggressively to achieve his agenda. It is a very very tricky situation, when the bully tears your life and your career apart, while people in charge are all pretty much waiting. The majority around are nice but there is only so much support they could offer. I have never thought about bullying before I took the "decent" job, but I can personally attest the seriousness of such inhuman treatment. It is like one is stabbed right in his/her heart. How can a 11-year-old handle it????

    I am all right now, but I just wanted to request that you on AC360 pay more attention to this kind of bullying, whether at school/university or at a workplace, esp. in places which we tend to think are safe. The whole society–workers, parents, college students, children, even professors–have to be educated before it is too late. Thank you for bringing the public's attention to this serious problem–bullying, wherever it may be.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  7. maureen

    My son was called gay and other names in school. He was not gay. He did have friends who were. Cell phones were used to make his life unbearable. When in school during classes one bully would text another and they would both laugh at him in classes. He would receive phone calls and texts all hours of the day and night. The bullying was in person and on the computer. He had no peace on weekdays or weekends. Rumors were made up about him thus other kids didn't like him before they even met him. School officials didn't condone it but they seemed to believe bullying was a phase some kids went through. They didn't handle it seriously. Although one teacher told me if my son wasn't white there would be racist bullying laws to help us.. I tried my best. to help my son. After 2 years of this I moved him from a home and town we had lived for many years. I couldn't stop the bullying any other way. Some kids are meaner to other kids then grown-ups can ever imagine.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  8. Dian Strauss

    Are you kidding? Why is this such a mystery? When kids are unaccountable, behavior tends to go wild. What I want to know is "Where are the people in charge when all this bullying is going on? When I taught school in the 70's I read the riot act on day one: "Everyone is this class deserves dignity & respect. Anyone who doesn't adhere to this rule will have ME personally to deal with." When students were under my watch I took the responsibility very seriously. They knew that I expected nothing short of strict adherence to that rule. By the way I treated everyone of them with dignity & respect & for the most part, things went quite well. It's time for teachers, administrators & anyone else in charge to stop looking the other way & having the attitude that "I'm only here to teach history (or whatever their subject matter is), not to instill manners or proper behavior. That's the parents' responsibility" I say we can all chip in & make the whole schoolday pleasant, safe, & productive for everyone. So let's do more than our part. We owe it to the little ones who come to school so eager to please.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  9. Lupe D

    Well i am 28 years old now but when i use to attened school i would see alot of bulling around. It might sound weared and stupid but the thruth of it is that, i would push it all away by being tougher. Me and many friends of mine at that time would always either get in trouble or be in fights just because of that. But my point here is that, teachers and other school staff know about it, if not they hear it from other students that could be just even walking beside it (bulling). When nothing is being done thats when kids start taking matters into there own hands.
    Austin TX

    April 24, 2009 at 2:04 am |
  10. Peter Amory

    The children that are bullied while at school should be protected by school officials,parents,teachersand police. If it is found to be true that a bully is targeting other students including teachers, the first thing to do is expell the student immediately and make them enroll in another school. I believe this action will get the parents involved and protect the bullied persons. The plain truth is that school officials are not doing their jobs very well. Enough of the excuses Its about control and lack of academic ability in the bully and all they know is persecuting a weaker person the bully has a very low self image.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:02 am |
  11. Mary

    I have just seen my second news broadcast w/Anderson Cooper , about the bullying epidemic that is happening in our would to day. I am so sorry for the two families that have the horrific sorrow facing them today. I am currently dealing w/bullying happening with my son in school and he is dealing with the same thing these parents have gone through. My son is in the fourth grade and he has been attacked (4) times this year. He is called gay and that he is a sissy. My husband and I are dealing with this situation daily and I applaud you for making this the news it should be. We also have close contact with the school and confront each incident as it occurs. Kids need to know that they have someone on their side.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:00 am |
  12. Natalie Silva

    My son just came home today, crying to me about another bullying incident at school. He'll be 14 next week and after seeing both stories on CNN about the 11 year-old boys, I fear for my son. He has had bullying issues for over a year now. Just this past October, I finally resolved one of the situations. They dealt with and stopped the problem only after I went to the Superintendent, but it has continued with other kids. We've sent our son to counseling to try and help him sort out feelings and hopefully not be too scarred by what happens at school.
    As a parent, I get so angry and don't know where to turn, when the school does not want you to get involved other than reporting the issue. The teachers seem to be so tired of dealing with the same problems and problem children. This affects everyone, because when teachers have to stop class to deal with all of the social issues, they lose valuable teaching time with our children.
    If I can get my son to get through these last 4 weeks, he will start High School next year. My husband and I are doing everything we can to pay for private school. We want to give him a chance in a better environment.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:52 am |
  13. catherine

    School should give the bully's parents warning about the incident and give them two strike if they don't stop bullying just kick them out.The school should have zero tolerance for bully's.We send our children to school to get an education not to be bully by other student and the school does not take any action until its too late.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:50 am |
  14. Julian

    Our public school system is broke. Why we are paying taxes to keep studends in school that are not there to learn?? There shoold be no tolerance for this type of behavior not only towards other students but towards teachers and stuff. These kids are not going to learn anything from life just with a slap on the wrist. Throw them out of school and let them and their parents pay for private school. We tolerate too many things in this country – no more respect for other humane beeings.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:49 am |
  15. Taylor

    Bullying is an age old torment to children everywhere, it is portrayed in films, books, television shows, cartoons, ect. Everyone knows that bullies simply bully because they are insecure with themselves and feel the need to pick on less confident peers to make themselves feel bigger.
    The fact that 11 year old children are killing themselves over something that is so preventable and could have been dealt with so easily is disheartening.
    We could prevent bullying by teaching kids that it is okay to be who they are and that they should accept others for who they are. We will never be able to completely change everyone's minds about every religion, gender, sexual orientation, ect. Many people bully others out of fear of how someone is and that they may be like that.
    The world is not corrupt because of those who are different the world is corrupt because of those who are afraid of people who are different.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:48 am |
  16. Barry McKinlay

    Children that are brutalized by other children are victims. Unchecked, this behavior leads to a perception that taking advantage or bullying others is acceptable. Schools do little to protect the most targeted. Today, in 2009 people still teach their children to marginalize differences in others. Rather than appreciate OUR humanity, many are taught to target people based on sexual orientation, religion, gender, physical abilities. Is there any wonder why so many children are growing up angry, killing fellow students and/or themselves?

    In this day and age, ANY discrimination of any kind is profanely ignorant.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:48 am |
  17. kelly

    sensitivity training, serve cookies.
    every day.
    every grade.
    in school, full funding.

    reinforce, maybe with candy or a certificate to increase a test grade by one letter.

    sensitivity training for parents, serve cupcakes.

    bully the bullies with kindness, they are just confused and may have poor role models. ignorant people put others down in an attempt to uplift themselves....we all need tools to express ourselves with dignity.

    reward is more powerful than punishment.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:48 am |
  18. Janet Mitch

    Please tell parents to make sure when their children are being bullied to put it in writing and mail a certified return receipt requested letter to the principal and keep a copy of the letter themselves. This certifies the school has been put on notice preventing anyone from denying the importance of the situation or it's being reported.

    Next step is a letter to the school superintendent.

    In Florida, very strict laws have been put in place to protect students from bully's and the schools will be held responsilble.

    My child's school did an excellent job keeping him safe and the only thing he noticed was how suddenly the teachers seemed to be every where but he didn't know why. (I never told him I wrote a letter.) His comments were how they were in the halls during classes changing, the restrooms, cafeteria, stairwells and students were even assigned as monitors when enough teachers weren't available.

    The school needs to be put on written notice immediately!

    April 24, 2009 at 1:47 am |
  19. Dr. Susan M. Swearer

    I would like to draw AC's and the viewer's attention to the research on the connection between homophobia and bullying. In 2008, myself and Dr. Dorothy Espelage co-edited a special issue of the journal, "School Psychology Review" (June 2008, volume 37) on "Homophobia and bullying: Addressing research gaps." ?The articles in this special issue examine this problem. Not only is it important for shows like "AC-360" to report these tragic stories, but it is also important for this show to connect reporting to research. We know that being called "gay" is psychologically damaging to youth–particulary young boys. The article in this special issue, "'You're so gay!": Do different forms of bullying matter for adolescent males?" finds that the answer is an emphatic "yes."

    April 24, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  20. Barbara Blywise

    I think that you should check out a website called Bullies to Buddies, and give Mr. Izzy Kalman equal time on this issue. He feels that the current way bullying is handled is schools is wrong and has come up with an alternative. I have taken his training, and use his techniques in my counseling practice with children.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  21. Enid Eckert

    The parents of bullies bear a lot of responsibility for their childrens behavior. Hypocracy, intolerance and negative comments/stereotypes begin in the home.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  22. Regina

    school boards and superintendents are the main advocates against senate bill proposals addressing "bullying"

    April 24, 2009 at 1:44 am |
  23. Dixie Logan

    What I can't understand is why is all the news coverage about the victims and not any mention of the perpetrators? Surely, the bullies are known in these instances. Not matter what the age of these kids, there absolutely needs to be real coverage of these mean kids, interviews with them, interviews with the specific principals and teachers under whose watch this happens. Like the crime of rape is not about sex, school bullying is not about 'kids learning to get along', it's about POWER and it will continue until the specific abusers are brought to the light and kicked out of school! Antisocial behavior is big trouble when these kids leave the schools, so why are we addressing this serious problem with only changes in school policy and other administrative hand-wringing. This needs to be taken more seriously, even if it means making it against the law and punishable by law.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:44 am |
  24. Melody

    Children learn from thier parents even what parents don't think thier children see and hear. Children immatate thier parents and adopt some of thier beliefs and some emotions such as hate. Children who use gay slurs in bullying have learned it. There will always be people who are different. Not everyone will like everyone else. To hate those who are percieved to be different and attack them wether emotionally of physically is wrong in every way.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:44 am |
  25. Stephen

    I think when it comes to sexual bullying, the lesson needs to start at home with the parents. Parents need to take a stronger stance with children " that you don't treat people that way!!!!" Parents need to tell there kids that you need to accept people for who & what they are! whether it is Sex, Race, Religion, or Sexual Orientation!

    April 24, 2009 at 1:44 am |
  26. Laura Burke

    The problem with bullying does not begin nor end in schools. It starts at home where children are not taught to accept difference. It comes to no surprise that children are committing suicide when called gay. Look at how our society outcasts gay people. Many gay people are seen as second class citizens. Once our society accepts difference, so will our children.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:44 am |
  27. Tawfeeq

    Dear AC,
    The school should inform the parents of the bullies, and if the bulleing does not stop, those parent should be hold liable and taken to court. This is the only way parents will be tough enough with thier sopiled kids.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:42 am |
  28. Regina

    american society tolerates all forms of bullying from workplace to schools

    April 24, 2009 at 1:42 am |
  29. Victor Malin

    I know the bullies are wrong for what they are doing to the victims in these cases. I'm not justifying their actions. However, I think that the general sentiment is about punishing them. They do need correction but also we need to look deeper into the issues they themselves are experiencing and the reason they feel it is ok to bully someone else.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:40 am |
  30. Jana

    I think it is beyond tragic that two young, bright boys took their own lives due to bullying. Much attention is being given to blaming the kids who participated and continue to parttake in the bullying as well as the bystanders who failed to do anything about it, whether out of fear or just lack of concern. What about the parents of these bullies?? What are they doing to help this situation? Children this young cannot be held solely responsible for their actions. Parents and guardians who are raising these children need to be taken into account when considering early intervention to help prevent from further tragedies such as these two recent suicides.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:39 am |
  31. jd

    Gays in schools (Or perceived gays) are suffering from the same problem as gays in society in general. It is the extension of gay discrimination, and marriage right amendments, and gay bashing. Children look to their parents, pastors, and leaders for guidance. Do we expect children to respect differences in sexuality when their parent and pastors are preaching hate?

    April 24, 2009 at 1:39 am |
  32. marie

    we've all been bullied based on differences. I know I was bullied based on size due to a thyroid illness. It eventually led to my ongoing struggle with anarexia. In addition, my dad is gay and I have heard people bully him even today at the age of 40 something! We need to realized that it is occurring and that it must be addressed!

    April 24, 2009 at 1:38 am |

    Ms. Coloroso lives in a dreamworld! Bullying goes on because the principal and faculty do not adequately supervise students and do not enforce penalties and suspensions. BUT IT CAN BE STOPPED....

    My son was physically and emotionally bullied from K-5th at a nationally ranked elementary school in Hillsborough CA. It has lofty human/student rights policies, but the principal and onsite psychologist were ineffectual.

    At my wits' end, I TURNED TO OUR DO-IT-YOURSELF LEGAL SYSTEM. Several phone calls, and THE BULLYING STOPPED ABRUPTLY. I told the offenders' parents they [and the school] would receive a police report and medical bills after each incident; and I would enforce payment through small claims court and property liens.

    I only regret not thinking of it when he was in Kindergarten.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:25 am |
  34. Blue, from Denver

    It's way beyond time to stop this behavior & teach our young people to respect differences!
    I was called names, too & I know how it hurts.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:24 am |
  35. George T.

    Until the complete and correct socialization of a child, (youngster) takes place they maintain an inheritly mean streak for others. That streak shows through in the form of bullying. An outstanding Anti-Bullying program on paper has no bite! It creates a false sense of "success". I've been there as a principal and we brought kids who "bullied" in, counseled them and had them apoligize to the other kid, we also notified the parent of what took place. If this did not stop the problem , we had the parent(s) in the office with their child, and had them ask their child why they persisted in "bullying". The child was then told in front of the parent that "suspension" was the next step. At the the same time the child being bullied and his parents were made aware of the school"s actions.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:40 am |
  36. mary shaw, colorado springs co

    Dear Mr. Cooper: This is a situation that has viciously gone beyond playful teasing, and steps need to be taken to make certain this antisocial activity is stopped before more students who are victims take their lives out of sheer self defense.

    I read an article by a teacher whose solution for showing her students the results of extreme bullying were such that her students got the message immediately. I don't recall her name or school, only the wisdom of her idea.

    She divided her class into two sections, one where all of the pupils had blue eyes, and the other where the students had brown eyes. She then instructed them to take turns bullying each other. Each side was given 20 minutes to bully the other team.

    There was a vigorous effort at making fun of blue-eyed nerds, calling them stupid because they had blue eyes because anyone with blue eyes was a moron. They taunted them for their clothing, way they talked with stupid accents, etc.

    It was then the turn of the blue eyes to bully the brown eyes, and their bullying was done with similarly vicious taunting and laughing at such a bunch of idiots, some with funny accents, etc.

    After these two demonstrations were over. they discussed how they felt and the concensus was even though it was just a play, they all still felt a certain amount of hurt and resentment, and felt uncomfortable at being called names by their fellow students.

    Mr. Cooper, I think if such demonstrations were done on a weekly basis, such bullying attitudes would change. There will always be a few whose attitudes will never change, but with constant acknowledgment of the situation, I believe the majority of students could see the immaturity of such actions and maybe grow up a little. A few might even be persuaded to tutor the stubborn ones.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  37. Robin

    Did you know there is a special School Hotline you can contact? It is an 866 Number. I know, b/c I used it. I have an 11 yr old 5th grader who has also been the subject of the same comments as these 2 boys. The hotline gets reported to the superintendent of your particular school district and the police. In my case, I was told by the reporter on the phone that I had a strong case. (The particular boy threatened to 'kill" my son and his sisters, etc.) The school followed up with me in 30 days and nothing more came of it. This same child was allowed to play on the school football league even though he was on 'In school suspension'. This school system has a very good reputation in our area, but b/c it's public, expulsion of a child is near impossible.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:06 am |
  38. Lafayette S. Clark

    Thanks for your report on school harassment. We have encountered complacency and tolerance by school officials as the main reason why harassment and bullying behavior continues. The name of the school mentioned is Pleasant Valley High School, Chico, CA. The school officials seem to believe that their school is immune from violence on campus. It happens at other schools, not here attitude. Our son (16) had received threatening phone calls over his cell phone before he was eventually assaulted on the high school campus, in view of a surveillance camera, by a known school bully. The school officials refused to return our phone calls until we contacted the school superintendent and the city police and insisted that charges be made against the perpetrator. The school surveillance camera was conveniently taped over and we were told by the police officer at the school that the school could not guarantee our son’s safety. I was told by the school vice principal that the only “program” in place at the school to deal with harassment was a “bullying hotline” and suspension or expulsion for bullying behavior. I was also told by the school principal that the schools do not teach individual responsibility. We were told the only thing that we could do was get a restraining order. We have a temporary restraining order in place now and are in the process of obtaining an extension of the restraining order. Getting a restraining order is not easy. So far it has cost us $3,000.00. The perpetrator has only been charged with battery on school grounds. The police did not charge the perpetrator with using a communication device (phone) to make threatening phone calls. I played the recorded threats and they were dismissed by the police officer while he was “popping” his gum. You cannot make lazy school officials and lazy police officers do their jobs because everyone is covering for the other. As of this writing, we have been dealing with this for 3 months and the school no longer returns my calls or answers my e-mails.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  39. Chris

    This is tragic beyond belief. Schools, the community and parents need to be teaching tolerance. This is unacceptable. The bullies need to have consequences. As a teacher, I do talk to my students about cyber bullying, but that just isn't enough. It needs to be emphasized and discouraged thorough out the core of any curriculum whenever the opportunity arises.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:01 am |
  40. Jeni

    I think this fits into two big debates happening right now in our country: Gay Marriage and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Full disclosure: I LOVE The Gays. Always have, always will. But, I think that this issue is a basic rights issue that is not only affecting the people that want to marry or serve openly in the military. It is clearly affecting these children across the country. It is SO horrible to be called gay, that they have to kill themselves.

    How can that be? It's because it's obvious this country treats gay people like 2nd class citizens. If you're gay, you aren't worthy enough to get married. If you're gay, you aren't good enough to fight for our country (well, I guess you are, just don't tell us about it, 'cause it totally grosses us out and we'll have to ask you to leave). Yeah, I can see how a 10 year old who is still trying to figure himself out wouldn't want to be called GAY. Being gay is something the country sees as evil. Let's not associate with that.

    It enrages me that there are people that care so much about what people they don't know (The Gays) do, that they spend their lives fighting against them. Fighting against Gay Marriage and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Even though, we all know that their life is not going to be affected in any way, shape or form. There will be just as many Gays living together, pretending to be "married", with none of the rights.

    This is the message they send to the kids of America. This is why it's bad enough to end a life.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  41. Marilyn

    Your tragic example of "gender bullying" of boys and young men brings to mind another type of bullying that is also seldom properly dealt with. That is the bullying that young women and girls inflict upon one another. This type of bullying is usually less blatant and more emotional that physical, but it nonetheless inflicts damage It is time that emotional bullying in our schools and communities be recognized for what it is–unacceptable aggression.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  42. Jean Van Wyck

    As a mother and an experienced teacher, I wanted to make you aware of the fact that even though many school systems have a "zero tolerance" for bullying, there is a big loop hole in the policy.

    I have witnessed, firsthand, that students who are labeled Emotionally or Behaviorally Disordered are protected, under the law, from expulsion. If their bullying is found to be the result of their disability, they are exempt from the "zero tolerance policy". These students can only be suspended for a certain number of days per school year. If these student use up their days of out of school suspension, and continue to bully, they are sent to an alternative school for no more than 90 days. After 90 days they can return back to the same school. Believe it or not this loophole also pertains to bringing weapons or drugs on campus.

    As far as I know there are no mandated programs that these students must attend or complete in order to be allowed back into the public school system. They usually return with no remorse, no change in behavior...and the pattern continues.

    Many students have been and are continuing to be traumatized due to this "loophole".

    Thank you for your time.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:49 pm |
  43. Sandra Schoenberg

    Bullying has existed in schools for decades and is both emotionally and psychologically damaging to all children, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Teachers stand by, look the other way or, at best, equivocate when intervening between the bully and the bullied. There is no soft way to eradicate this social disease. Enforced threat of expulsion to reform school remains the only option. As far back as 50 years, bullied children just suffered through and carried the scars. Now they are committing suicide and school massacres. The gauge of a country's health is how it takes care of its children, its elderly and its education. As the greatest nation in the world, how healthy are we?

    April 23, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  44. para educator webster

    I am a para educator in a suburban high school, I am not stuck in just one class room all day, I walk around all day and see the bullying and the selling of drugs and the racism and I feel that we are allowing it. even though I report it everytime i see it. we need to communicate to our kids and to the parents, and the media needs to change all the commercials to speak to the yourth about whats right and whats wrong.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  45. John

    Was glad to see your follow up story on bullying. So sad to hear that yet another young child has taken his life. I can relate to this story because I was bullied in my my high school years and thought of taking my life or hurting myself many times. Today, I am 58 years old and feel those horrable days have shaped my current life. Today I am considered "mental." It's a scar that you never get over. Even though there may be laws against bullying I can tell you they are not enforced. I told my teachers and parents numerous times that something had to be done. None of them listened. I'm glad I survived, but feel for those that are still suffering.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:36 pm |
  46. Ann

    The general public isn't aware of how prevalent bullying is in our schools. My son, a heterosexual, was bullied and taunted as being gay by a group of mean spirited boys in his class at the "gifted and talented" middle school he attended in Brooklyn. There was absolutely no tolerance for this kind of behavior at our neighborhood elementary school, so this problem in middle school, which was in another neighborhood, was pure culture shock. My son was threatening to run away from home. When I addressed the problem with the school administration, the dean recommended my son be moved to another class the following year to distance him from the taunting boys, but the principal would not approve the move. Unfortunately, the principal was very rigid about class change, whatever the reason, because her position was if a child's grades were good, social problems were insignificant, and thus not a problem. My son stopped reporting incidents to me or school authorities because he was bullied and taunted more if the offending boys were punished or singled out in any way for their behavior. My son survived middle school, but he endured some emotional cruelty no child should have to face at school.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:35 pm |
  47. Jeannie

    I just want to state that I'm tired; disgusted; and deeply angered about the two recent stories about these two young gorgeous boys. I'm 43 and it was a part of my school days and my older siblings before me and it will continue to be such until, Parents; Educators; older Siblings; Onlookers and so on say enough is enough. I strongly feel that Society as a whole is responsible for their suicides, because Society says being Gay; Lesbian; or Transgender is unforgivable, unlike someone who commits murder; rape; incest; molestation are allowed to exist in society after serving their sentences, if they are given any. They will typically not have to worry about any retaliation from society but for Homosexuals any and everybody feel that you are fair play to bash; harass; torture and kill. Adults can't handled being labeled a Homosexual even if they might actually be so, they will deny it, so how can we expect children to be able to. I'm a Lesbian but I'm also kind; loving; respectful; funny; fun; intelligent; giving and so much more.


    April 23, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  48. Faith

    In my opinion, bullies should be expelled from school as simple as that and why give them a second chance and jeopardize more kids safety! Bullying is a disease that's not easy to get rid of and requires rehab. My son was bullied last year in 8th grade by this kid who eventually beat him up and left his face all bruised up and bleeding which I took a picture of. His parents didn't want to take responsibility and called him a good kid. So, I went to the police to file a report but they refused to handle my complaint in a serious manner. My next step was to call the dean's office. The dean interviewed my son and assured him that the school does not tolerate bullies, but no action was taken. That caused my son to withdraw and keep himself isolated from everyone.. The school knew that this would be an ongoing issue for my son because that kid went to the same high school as my son and chances are, that he is after my son still unless the school takes the matter seriously and actually does something to prevent this from happening again. Eventually, I will be forced to move somewhere else in order to keep my son safe. Otherwise, he might end up dead or killing himself out of frustration. This should not happen in this country!!!

    April 23, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  49. Linda Graves

    I had to deal with this problem when I was 13. Thank God I was strong enough to realize who I was and my own personal worth (although it took several years to come to that conclusion.) I'm Dutch and German and have the typical Dutch nose. The kids in my 7th grade class would wait outside at lunchtime and oink and call me Linda the pig. It was so embarrassing I would run 1.5 miles home, crying my heart out every day after school. It went on for several months. When I got home I would lock my self in my bedroom and cry myself to sleep. I finally realized that I was prettier than most of the girls doing the name calling and I was able to focus on all of my good traits. It made me become an extreme empath and I became a special ed teacher. Because of this experience, I am dedicated to righting wrongs and usually support the underdog in any given situation. It was a life-strengthening experience.

    On the other hand...my younger sister was born with a lazy eye. She had several operations (ages 3 to 5) to sew her lid up so that she could see. As she got a bit older, her eye became distorted and wouldn't close. Ulcers formed on her cornia and it looked awful. The damage was done and there was nothing the doctors could do for her. Kids would laugh at her and call her cyclops and she hated herself. (This was back in the 50's.) As she became a young teenager, she began taking drugs and continued abusive behaviors until she finally died at the age of 48.

    Kids can be cruel, and my heart goes out to the parents of the two little boys that you've highlighted on your show. It's heartbreaking!

    April 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  50. Olga Mote

    I feel deeply sad about the lost of life due to bullying, I can even imagine the pain those kids were feeling to do the unthinkable. School is a place where they were supposed to feel safe. My family also had to deal with bullying towards our son. No child is safe from bullying and more often adults turn the other way. My 13 yrs old was dump on a trash can, while the PE coach watch and to top it off my son attends private school. As hard as it is for us to see and experience what our child has had to endure, we can not leave his emotional well-being to school officials, as we had found out they can not stop bullying on its totality. We have take resposibility and got our son the help he needs to learn healthy ways to deal with bullying at school.
    Every Parent has to take resposnsibility for their kids emotional well-being and not leave it up to the school official. If your child starts acting out or withdrawing from you, seek proffesional help. Kids need a third party who is knowledgeable and a proffesional to help them ease their pain.
    send my condolences to the parents of Carl and Jaheem.

    April 23, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
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