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