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.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/16/school.bus.cuts/art.school.bus.cuts.afp.gi.jpg]

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. kathy soto

    This breaks my heart. My daughter was also bullied and tormented in school. We talked about it constantly and I did everything I could to raise her self esteem. I finally sent her to another high school and the problems do not exsit any more. I complained many times to the school and they assured me they did have zero tolerance to bulleying. This did not make any difference. I feel the school did not want to deal with this realistically. I saw a program on tv about bullies and how schools and parents can deal with them. I thought they had excellent ideas for schools but when I suggested them to my daughter's school they did not care to listen. My heart cries for this boy and his family.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Cheryl

    This tragedy should never have taken place. Schools today are focused more on making AYP, rushing through the mile wide and inch deep curriculum and the playing of politics and favorites every day rather than focusing on the emotional needs of children, Oftentimes who you are or are perceived to be in the community informs the attention that you get as a parent.

    This mother had two things going for her: she had a good relationship with her son as he confided in her about what was happening to him in school and secondly she felt empowered enough to go to the school and address the problem. I am sure that she was given the assurance that the matter was being addressed. However, it was obvious from the outcome that not enough was done.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  3. karen

    i feel so sorry for the families of these boys that felt the only answer was hanging themselves. i grew up in the 60s and 70s and bullying went on daily in all my schools, i dont ever rember a child killing themselves. i am sorry but i think kids and adults now are weak. always wanting to blame someone else, not being able to deal with all the problems in life. its like now if you had a bad childhood, you kill yourselves or others. quit blaming everyone if you cant handle life get help. maybe that is why are military is not what is was 40 to 50 years ago. not allowed to hurt soilders make them strong. get back to raising strong, intelligent kids instead of oh woh is me kids.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  4. susan

    I teach Grade 6. Bullying happens most often during unsupervised times. In addition, technologically savy children have taken bullying to a new level through e-mail, MSN, and Facebook. Often, teachers and parents are unaware of the bullying until the scars are too deep for individual students to cope. Finally, when parents are called with regard to the "bullying" behaviour of their child, many of them will shrug it off and simply reply, "it's just kids being kids." Bullying is inherent in our country and it is must larger than a simple school problem.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  5. Lidia

    Yes, bullying is such a failure in my school, and is the newest stories out there indicate, it is a failure in other schools. I have witnessed bullying personally in the schools I work at and in my children's school. The way schools handle it, and some tactics they us in dealing with behavior is flat out wrong. I have even witnessed school administrators whose policies are just as bad as bullies themselves.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  6. M M Elgadi

    I think school officials have to be in-serviced on regular basis on taking the issue of bullying seriously and to give it priority than other school isues. I also recommend including in the education curriculum
    a subject that teaches tolerence in schools from the early school years. Involving parents in teaching their children about tolerence could have a positive effect on students relationships in the school.
    Last but not least, the punishment for bullying at school should be severe enough to make the would-be byllyer think twice before getting involved in such act of harrassment.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  7. norma gonzalez

    bullying, fighting at the school is something that should not be permitted or overlooked. the schools need to imply some kind of discipline which american school's lack!

    April 24, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
  8. Tom Jackson

    I'm almost 50 yrs old and I was a victim of a bully, and later became a bully myself. I have tried to make amends for my behavior, now I try to forgive myself for it. I'm sorry that this young boy died, especially as the result of being bullied. The question I don't hear being asked is, "Why is the bully a bully?Where and how did they learn to be a bully? As for me, I learned bulling from an older sister and my father. My sister also learned bulling from him as well. How we prevent bulling, I don't think we can. I do think we teach children not to become a bully and not to become a vitctiom of the bully. It will be very hard, but it must be taught to the parents and or care givers to children. Every action has a result, we need to choose if it's a good or bad result.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  9. beverly frost

    Bullying is terrible and my son's schools did nothing to prevent it. You also haven't brought out the part that religion plays in fueling the antigay sentiment. There is so much hatred spewed out in the name of G-D that hasn't been addressed.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  10. Becky Pyle

    I am a retired elementary teacher (37 years). I know how to deal with bullies, having done it many times. But the climate is different now. All too often when you attempt to talk to the bully or the bully's parents, you are confronted with indignation and denial. Schools often back down in the face of the parents, especially the loud ones. Then there is the "sweetness and light" culture – never make them feel bad, never let them experience failure. Nurture the bullies so they will see the error of their ways. Sounds good on paper, but bullies need to be dealt with immediately and firmly. Finally, you have to be very careful that you don't make the situation worse and increase the bullying with the bully/bullies being more adept at avoiding detection. My heart goes out to these mothers!!!!!!

    April 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  11. Rachel

    It is now time for parents and school officials to take charge of these bulling problem, when they are first mentoned swift action should be taken. A bully is a coward who depends on getting away with it.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  12. M M Elgadi

    I think school officials have to be in-serviced on regular basis on taking the issue of bullying seriously and to give it priority than other school issues. I also recommend including in the education corriculum a subject that teaches tolerance in schools from the ealy school years.
    Involving parents in
    teachin their children about tolerence could have a positive effect on students relationships. Last but not least, the punishment for bullying at schools should be severe enough to make the would-be bullyers think twice before getting into such act of harrassment.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  13. John

    Bully have been with us a long time. When I was going to junior high and high school in the early 60, I used to get bully a lots. I know I can't tell the school or my parent, my parent was too busy at work and when they home they want to relax. We all pose to scholl and learn but we get beat up cause we are different from them, the bully rob our moneys, beat us up, one time I came home bleeding, my dad said try not to get into fight in school but he didn't know I was bully, they can pick on you before class, in school, after school. Durning that time the school don't help cause the more you complaint the more hide it under rug. As I get older my kids also get bully, my son say he don't want to go to school because someone will beat him up in school, my kids say kids at school carry guns, knifes, there also gangs in school. Is harder to learn in when someone say they going beat you up after school. This have been going on for a long time. The schools and States should be sue cause of all these bully from kids who think they are tough who heard the weak and the person who is different from them. There no law for this kids get away with bully other kids who want to learn but scare to tell anyone cause they get beaten up after school, they might kill from bully. We should have a new law to prevent bully in school or put bully kids in counselors.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  14. Debra

    Jaheem's story brings back frustrating years of fighting against the bullying of my son. I was actively involved in trying to work with school officials to eliminate the threats, to little or no avail. So you know Anderson, while the pain of that period has gone away, the memories for my now 30 yr-old son have not.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  15. Mary Ellen McFee

    I believe that there is alot that can be done about bullying, first at home and then at school. As a substitute reacher for the last ten years, I have been in alot of classrooms, and I know in the first ten minutes who is being bullied by whom. All you have to do is watch; unfortunately, , all too often that is all that is done. Who are the bullies? What makes a kid a bully? They get away with it! If we teach our own children at home to respect other's feelings, to EMPATHIZE, to stand up for what is right, there wouldn't be any audience for bullies, and that's what they want. So yes, it can be dealt with, and stopped even, but it shouldn't have to be after a little boy feels so hopeless that he ends his life. Can you imagine? Can you begin to fathom how he felt? Can you EMPATHIZE ?

    April 24, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  16. Mary Smith

    Incidents like this are blown out of proportion. Kids need to toughen up. If someone kills themself, there is other things going on. This is worse case. We have got to stop babying our older children; it brings on this very thing.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  17. Anne Papineau

    As a early elementary teacher, I speak often to my students about kindness, respect of others who we may think are different...of tolerance and understanding for those we may not like because they are "different". It helps ,however, parents need to teach their children these things at home as well. School and home need to work together on this.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  18. Courtney

    Why aren't we talking about a key fact in these two stories of these boys hanging themselves? In both cases the boys weren't just bullied, they were bullied using anti-gay slurs. These kids get this behavior from their parents, and from this country. LGBT people are denied their basic rights every day. Religious leaders deamonize their lifestyles. So of course these 11 year old kids think there is nothing wrong with tourmenting some queer boy. How can we blame kids for lashing out with the same abuse that adults in this country are using? Tolerance needs to come from the top. Until people recognize that lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people are in fact people too, these kind of abuses will continue.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:01 pm |
  19. George C Johnson MD

    Hello Anderson,

    Schools need to rely more on other students to address issues such as bullying and also discrimination of all types.

    We need to incorporate emotional education as part of the education of our children in elementary, middle and high school. When our young get to know their fellow students better, they will have less tendency to make others uncomfortable. Also other students will be more likely to interceed when someone does do this.

    We can only address issues like these by taking a more comprehensive approach, an approach which is based more on cultivating good relationships and sensitivity to one's fellow students than trying to rectify the situation after it has already occurred through some form of punishment.

    I hope one day soon will be realize one of the biggest problems we face in our society is creating an environment in which behavior which is insensitive to others is less likely to occur because we have been attentive enough to the social enviroment in which it occurs.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  20. Dawn

    so sad!! it's pretty obvious that the school was'nt doing what they needed to do, while this child was in there care. As far as the mom goes, surely the parent would have picked up on something!?!? if it were me, i would have been at the school everyday, if that's what it took, or got the law involved.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  21. Craig Ogilvie

    I amazes me that so much responsibility is cast on the schools when bullying occurs. Whilst schools do have a responsibility to deal with bullying appropriately, if I had a child who had bullied other kids, I would have to ask myself,,,'where have I gone wrong, bringing up a child who thinks it is acceptable to abuse and bully another person?' So much of this problem starts at home. Parents HAVE to take some responsibility for their children's actions..not just the schools. Parents, first and foremost are the moral educators of children and certainly if kids are taunting other children about being gay, there is, without a doubt, seeds of the same message coming from the home of the builies.

    It's times like this when parents need to start reflecting more seriously how their actions and opinions influence their children, the children whom are the adults of tomorrow.

    Craig Ogilvie
    Nagoya, Japan.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  22. joan

    Bulling Should Not Be Tolerated, At All.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  23. Chris Emily

    Sorry Anderson, but you and those interviewed tonight totally missed the mark with this one. The reason kids bully is not the fault of the school system. Yes. Principals have failed in punishing bullies. When my daughter was tormented, the principal called the girls together that were causing the problem and told them to stop. He asked if she ever did anything to them and they said 'No. She was nice.' The principal turned around and told me that these were 'nice girls'. No dicipline measures were taken and maybe they should have, but he was afraid of angering the parents of the bullying girls. The REAL problem is that the parents are raising the bullies. When I confronted one parent about it, they were totally standoffish. Once you know the parents won't listen, all hope is lost, Anderson!! It is ultimately the parents responsiblity to raise empathetic children. Parents should be held responsible for the actions of their children or 'minors'. Not the minors.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  24. John

    THis is an unfortunate situation but while reivewing the news stories, I noticed that there are comments from the boys' mothers but no mention of their fathers. Bullying is a common occurrence in growing up. In my experience, it was resolved by coaching from my father and easily overcome because my father was there to advise me how to address these situations. Is this becoming a greater issue because there is no Alpha male in the upbringing of these children or is this due to an an increased lack of supervision in schools? I am not a parent but have 6 nephews and have also coached them how to address this situation and every time, it worked.
    PS- Erica Hill is awesome and needs more air time.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  25. Mario Gonzalez


    I think people are missing the big picture and not addressing the bulling of being called "gay." Being called "gay' at the age (because I remember) was worst then being called "stupid" or "ugly."

    I honestly feel that society needs to normalize sexuality.. someone being called "gay" should not be thought of as a bad things, but that is what we are taught.

    I think we need to address sexuality and normalizing sexuality from being so taboo or negative.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  26. Don Soles

    My son was racially targeted along with another white child for two years. We had monthly meetings with the staff of Brandywine School District in Claymont DE.
    My son was treated for post traumatic stress disorder for two years.
    Then the district tells my son he is not allowed to go to any classes where there is a substitute because he reported the class was out of control at these times and he would be threatened in the classroom. He was also told he could not use the hallway restrooms because he reported several threats and attempted robberies in the restrooms.
    We felt this denied him access to an equal education because others had a problem with his race and the district just wanted us out of the district.
    I have just sold my home in Delaware and feel I am forced to double my mortgage payments and start over again in Pennsylvania because my son has threatened suicide if he has to go back to any Delaware school. Contacting every politician in Delaware and taking my son to a meeting with Governor Minner resulted in no assistance of any kind. I can't even find a lawyer to sue the district. They have told me there is not enough money in it for them.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  27. Dianne W.

    I am watching your show on bullying and wanted to comment on that. My son, who is now 22, was bullied from 2nd grade through 6th grade. I spoke to the principal numerous times. I picked him up from school with blood on his shirt from being punched in the nose and getting a bloody nose. He was bullied constantly. The school never solved the problem. Their response was "he needs to stand up for himself." I finally pulled him out of school in the 6th grade and homeschooled him. For all the children who are bullied at school, I believe the school should be accountable for this problem and do something to stop it, otherwise there should be consequences for school officials.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  28. Mark

    I cannot honestly believe that this is news. I cannot believe that you are wasting air time for bullying. I was bullied as a kid and you know what you get over it as you get older. I am 40 but years ago I had a lot of torment in school. My heart goes out to the mothers but obviously there was something wrong with the kids anyway this is not news.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  29. Ginny

    Hard to believe you are blaming the school for the backward attitudes propagated by the parents running the home in which the students live. The school cant fix society's ills.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  30. Karen Calvey

    My heart goes out to the parents of the young boys that this tragedy has happened to. My 10 year old boy was bullied for two years in Henderson NV. The school responded by sending him to the guidance counselor. Why is the victim victimized twice? He was then moved to another classroom. Once again being victimized and being put in the spotlight. When we teach our children to fight back, the response is to suspend that child because there are no tolerance for fighting in schools. Who will fight for our kids? Who will protect them?

    April 24, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  31. Tracy Pattin

    Bullying has got to stop. When I see the beautiful faces of these young boys it's truly a tragedy.

    The PARENTS need to be held responsible as well as the school. I do NOT buy the defense that these schools are doing everything they can to prevent bullying. Obviously they are not!

    It's time for more principals like that one who played with the young student at recess to send a "silent, yet powerful message" to the students to stand up and have some GUTS!

    This is NOT acceptable! From school shootings (murders) to bullying and suicides, it's time to WAKE UP! Parents, teachers and principals. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:54 pm |
  32. Amanda

    Trying to do research for a book. Bulling is pervasive, both in children and adults. Costs untold millions in depression, PTSD, anxiety attacks, etc. Having an enormous hurdle in collecting the data. As you can imagine, the bullies have the dollars.. Can you help get my message out so that the bullied can send me their stories? Adults and children. I suspect that State and Federal employees are particularly victimized (among adults. The more competent, the worse it is.)

    April 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  33. nikkie

    This is very heartbreaking. It is really sad that we live in a world where people are not accepted for who they are. I was bullied in school and my heart goes out to anyone that has to deal with that situation.

    I only hope that there is some kind of way we can fix this situation in schools where we dont continue to see cases of 11 year old children being affected by such pain.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  34. Karen

    This is the first generation that has had so much technology and so little parental responsibility. Parents nowadays think their children are "special" and can't be disciplined, can't be told "no".....physical and verbal violence are ok because the kids aren't required to behave at home, thus the are not expected to behave at school. Its not the schools, its the parents, its the home......

    April 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  35. Jane

    I tried to protect my children from bullying in school. I approached educators who were mildly amused, but not interested, so I told my kids to not respond and to use humor to deflect bullying. It worked, fortunately.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  36. Doug Berry

    Kids should be taught at an early age to tell on the bullies. Often the bullied
    kids are too scared to say anything. Bullies need to be identified, kicked out of school
    and force the parents to deal with their little terrorists. Bullied kids have been
    known to bring a gun to school and do alot of damage. What's it going to take to make the school system wake up.
    All the schools seem to care about is losing money if they kick trouble kids out.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  37. Jane

    I knew a boy who shot himself at age 14 because of bullying. My son was his protector to and from the bus before and after school, but who protected him at school? I hold educators responsible.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  38. Jane

    I knew a child who killed himself at 14 because of bullying. My son was his protector on the bus. But who looked after him in schoo?

    April 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  39. Cleon Neal Sr.

    I have 2 boys going to a Long Beach Unified School in California. We are originally from Belize and my boys both have an accent. My boys are consistently teased about their mom's weight, accent and being called gay. My oldest boy CJ has complained often to the school rec aids only to be turned away. Recently he went on a camping trip and could not take it anymore and physically defeneded himself. I have never thought my kids to use violence to settle matters, but what are we to do as parents when they are crying out for help and seem to be ignored both at school and at home. I feel helpless and completly understand that in some cases the school administrations hands are tied as this is a he said she said issue with on-lookers egging on the bullying and denying any knowledge of it when reported to the office. We monitor both our kids for any sudden changes and have constant dinner table talks to let them know we are aware of the situation.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  40. Kathy Knox

    Bullying is a serious issue in the school environment. There should be procedures in place that are carried out when bullying takes place. Serious procedures. Programs should be implemented from the first grade and throughout 12th grade educating our children on the devastating effects of this social violation. If we educate our kids in academics without socialization what kind of young adults are we producing? It should be noted that some adult should have noticed that this kid was also a depressed kid. Too many times as adults we overlook the signs of saddness, loneliness, depression because we are too busy with life ; or we are in denial . We shrug off the importance of their pain ! Sad Sad !

    April 24, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  41. Suzy

    My sympathy to both families... This is a failure in our society. It's a basic break down in parenting. The system has no support.
    Thank You, Suzy

    April 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm |
  42. Ethan

    I think that this is probably just an extreme case and that this kid was probably depressed about moving and just mentally unstable from the start. I think this was over publicized there are thousands of kids bullied all over the world and it was probably just as bad as this case.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  43. Lori

    Good eveneing David ,

    My heart goes out to the mother, and others who go through these issues. Not sure if my text made it on the 22nd, so sent another one, but i asked these questions .quote ; How are the parents and staff at school prepareing to deal with future bullying? Sorry isn't enough. and , What are all the students feeling about this?
    Thank you for all you do in reporting these hard, yet sensitive issues.
    Sincerely, Lori in MN

    April 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm |
  44. Jaye Miller

    Twitter response: If verbal abuse thru bullying over less than a year causes this tragedy 2 an 11-yr-o; think what it can do over a childhood.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm |
  45. Andre

    This is why we need to take a serious look at public education. This is not an isolated incident this is happen all over the country and at all levels! I deal with some form of bullying everyday in the classroom! We need too take a hard look at this because it is only getting worse!!!

    April 24, 2009 at 9:02 pm |
  46. Calif

    You Parents refuse to disipline your children, Refuse to let the teachers do it, refuse to let the bullied kid knock the bully on his butt & then put them infront of a TV for several hours a day – What do you expect to happen??? that kids are going to learn respect for others by osmosis???? Our GrandParents were well behaved WHY? because their parents took them to the wood shed- They learned real quick if they did wrong at school They got 7 lashes with a hickory switch then when they got home Mom & Dad would let them have it- They learned respect for other peoples property because if they broke something that was not theirs their parents made them work & pay for the damage they did- Mom & dad did not bail them out.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:00 pm |
  47. Bill

    Anderson – I commend you on your bullying report. Here is another aspect of bullying that you have not touched upon yet. Children are often afraid to report it because they feel it will only make things worse. If the bullies get in trouble, which is unfortunately seldom the case, the victim feels they will be picked on even more. The feeling that you cannot protect your child is probably one of the worst feelings we have to endure as parents. Schools appear to be powerless when it comes to bullying. In the rare occasion they can stop it on campus, it may continue after school. I’m surprised more parents don’t go off the deep end!

    April 24, 2009 at 8:19 pm |
  48. GF, Los Angeles

    I'm sure teachers may have seen the bullying but I'm sure many instances were missed. Unless there's an adult around 24/7 at the school in the bathroom, lunchroom, etc. bullying will continue unless parents address the bullies and their parents.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:09 pm |
  49. Tarja, Finland

    Press releases are just peaces of paper. They are not enough.
    It`s not enough to just give a bully a little warning, writing that we are watching you.These bullies must really know that their behaviour is totally wrong.
    Education for preventig bullying starts at home and it should continue at schools. Consistantly.
    And if the parents of a bully are unable to teach their child what is right and what is wrong, school is the next place for it.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  50. Jaime Amador-Hasbun

    I think that we parents need to be aware about what we are doing to stop our kids from bullying. We should explain them that it can leave psicological scares forever.

    April 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm |
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