April 24th, 2009
07:32 PM ET

Bullying: A failure in the system?

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from David Mattingly on the story on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

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David Mattingly | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Jaheem Herrera was a brand new student this year at Dunaire Elementary School near Atlanta. He had been excited at first, and looked forward to making new friends. Instead, he was mocked, taunted and harassed by bullies, more and more over his eight months at the school. And then, just 11 years old, he decided he couldn't endure it any more, and hanged himself in his closet.

How could a child be forced to such an extreme act in such a short time?

It's not like he was suffering in silence. Jaheem told his mother about the verbal abuse - and one physical assault. His mother says she complained multiple times to school officials. And this is a school system that experts say had a progressive anti-bullying policy.

Jaheem's complaints should have been taken seriously and adults in the school should have intervened. Did they?

Next week, School Board officials will speak publicly for the first time about Jaheem's death and the bullying that parents say goes on unabated at his school. Here's what a press release says about that event:

"We want to reassure the community that this is an important concern to DeKalb County School System. We care about the well-being of all of our students. We are committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment for them to learn. DeKalb County School System will continue to reinforce our policies/programs to address behaviors that are unacceptable."

I'm sorry, but this is not enough.

An 11 year-old child who should have been preoccupied with things like Wii and comic books found his life so miserable and meaningless that he ended it. Where was this "safe and nurturing environment" when he needed it? This is not a failure of a system or a program, this is a catastrophe.

His mother tells me that Jaheem had long been upset over the death of his grandmother. But even if he were depressed and vulnerable, professionals at the school should have been putting a halt to the bullying that made his life hell.

The tormenting that he was subjected to every week should never have happened a second time. No amount of official "reassurance" will ever change that.

Filed under: 360º Follow • David Mattingly • Education
soundoff (107 Responses)
  1. Joanna

    I don't know how there are no comments on this yet. This is an outrageous story!! I have to tell you, I am very concerned about my son entering 6th grade next year because of idiot junior high boy stunts and bullying. My son is quiet and sweet and I can just see him being a prime target for bullies – who by the way are raised by macho, bully dads. I plan on meeting with the principle long before school begins and I am going to make sure the hallways and bathrooms are monitored and constantly superviesed. I'm also going to speak to my son about this unacceptable behavior in the hopes that he will let me know if anything happens to him. How is it that no one has commented on this story??

    April 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Carol

    It's not enough..you are indeed correct...Unfortunately, it is exactly how it goes down....Teachers have a hard time sending kids to the office multiple times, because what will happen, is that they will be blamed for ill classroom management.....then, administration is so overwhelmed, that they are implementing programs to help the bullies, and leaving the bullied kids to, and on, their own. The problem here, is that kids will retaliate, but they shouldn't have to, but they will get bullied even worse if they "snitch." It's soooo horrible!!
    Unfortuantely, it takes a strong focus to break this cycle, as no school wants to be identified for a bullying problem....also, it is EXACTLY like the domestic violence system...often, the harrassment is not taken seriously, and until someone gets hurt, or dies, no real attention is given....so incredibly sad....but, happy to see this as a topic on CNN....parents, don't be scared to press the administration, and students, be pro-active with bullies, because they are just bullied kids who are ridding themselves of their own pain, but if they get exposed in front of their peers, sometimes it stops it. The biggest injustices occur in lunchrooms, during pe, and on busses...make them pull cameras when your child is assulted....often, the most injustice is done when the bullied child takes matters into his/her own hands, and ends up paying for it for the rest of their lives, or with their lives....so sorry for the pain that this parent must be feeling....my heart goes out to her..... lets work together and get stuff done!!!!!!

    April 26, 2009 at 9:36 am |
  3. RLWellman

    We have let the kooks of our society take God, prayer, and the pledge out of our schools. When I say our schools, atheists (some say their population may be as high as 15%) are still a minority. How can 85% of the people who believe in God allow this group to do this?
    I believe these groups have rights, but not at our expense. God will help us if we honor and believe in him. We need to stand up for our rights and beliefs. If you wonder why this is happening in our schools, the hope and belief someone is there to help us is gone. Evil has been allowed to take over.

    April 26, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  4. Marilyn

    This is a problem not just for the bullied and bullies but also the bystanders who don't know how to help stop it. Children who verbally bully need to understand that the hurtful, hateful things they say about others actually say more about their own poor character.

    How do you teach young people that they must become the change they wish to see in the world, that they must question the condemning and hateful things they learn at home, and that they are better people for doing so?

    God Bless the Whole World – No Exceptions

    April 26, 2009 at 4:51 am |
  5. Ann Lightfoot

    There must be a zero tolerance for bullying. Bullies are in fact wounded and insecure people that need help to feel whole about themselves. Every reported and observed act of bullying should be taken seriously. Bully/ies lead insecure other children to follow their lead. Isolate the bully/ies; have madatory treatment for the bully and their families (counsel must meet the needs of working families, hire counselors, evening hours). Make serious bullying (that which constitutes mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse/includes sexual name calling) a juvenile offense if the bully continues his or her behavior after treatment. Clarify the difference between teasing
    (it happens) and that which is ongoing, chronic bullying: threats and intimidation and violence. It is almost a certainty that when bullying shows up at school, something is going wrong for the bully at home and in his or her environement. For the sake of other children, and as a tribute to these two boys, we must act and now.

    April 26, 2009 at 3:46 am |
  6. kathleen schofield

    When we send our children and grandchildren to school we expect that they will be in a safe environment. We trust that the adults there are watching out for them, especially in Elementary school. We expect that the adults will be accountable and will respond to incident complaints effectively.
    It angers me to hear officials evade questions about bullying and Jaheem's death by changing the topic to how the Dekalb school is exemplary with a great program against hatred. That is good but It obviously didn't protect Jaheem. Apparently he wasn't the only one who complained either. Results speak louder than awards or signed promises. So, why are kids getting away with this?
    There must be intervention, not just inspiration.

    April 25, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  7. fran cooperman-pfaff

    Bullying must be stopped and dealt with the moment it happens and there is a complaint. The principal and teachers get involved, they meet with the victum and their parents. They call in the parents of the bullies, they make sure that everyone knows that the school has a "zero tolerence " " policy for this kind of behaviour. Bullies are suspended and consequenced for their behaviour. Parents must realize that their children are their responsibility and they must be on board with the school. Above all...............the teachers must be on the alert for this kind of behaviour. The principal needs to check in with the bullied victum every day. The child must have a teacher to whom he can go to talk and feel safe and secure. It is the school's responsibility to find out where and when bullying is occuring and monitor that area closely. Presenting programmes in the classroom and having 11 year olds sign their name to a paper means nothing. The school must be proactive and physically present in all areas to protect their pupils.

    April 25, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
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