Questions continue over bullying

Four teachers say they saw no evidence that Jaheem Herrera was bullied, even though family members say the 11-year-old committed suicide last month because of relentless abuse at the elementary school.

The teachers each wrote memos saying the never witnesses any bullying. One teacher even described the boy was well liked and popular.

But an intervention statement from the school’s culture chair says the boy was victimized during an incident in a school bathroom.

Jaheem’s death has gained national attention as family members accuse the school of failing to protect the boy.

DeKalb school officials and the county’s district attorney are looking into the situation.

The letters from teachers raise more questions about this sad case. Was Jaheem bullied or not? Were teachers oblivious to what was going on?

Even if we get answers, will anything change in our schools?

NOTE: Staff writer Nancy Badertscher is writing a story on teachers and paraprofessionals who are losing their jobs because of budget cuts. If you fit in that category, please contact her at nbadertscher@ajc.com. Thank you for your help.

41 comments Add your comment

Reality

May 8th, 2009
9:23 am

So now – let me understand what’s going on here…..

Parents cannot do their job, so the job is transferred to schools. Teachers are expected to teach values, morals, monitor all students all of the time (and some want teachers to teach law) and are also held accountable for all of this – even though the parents are not?

Does this make sense to anyone?

If this kid was bullyed in the bathroom or anywhere outside of the teachers view/room – why would it be the fault of the teacher? Why WOULD the teacher know?

The parents knew because this boy told them.

Society needs to STOP expecting schools/teachers to do everything and be everything for kids. It just isn’t fair or reasonable.

Ernest

May 8th, 2009
9:28 am

This is a case where the community does not have all of the information to make a judgment. There is an independent investigation going on, being conducted by a retired judge. It is probably best to withhold judgment until we see the findings of the investigation. This is a tragic situation and speculation will not help.

FWIW, there is a DeKalb School blog that has interesting information regarding comments on this case made at several community meetings. You can find them at:

http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/

dbow

May 8th, 2009
10:31 am

The family spokesperson says that teachers are scrambling to save their butts and trying to avoid lawsuits. Gee, I wonder why they would do that? Could it be because the family lawyered up before the dust even setteled? It doesn’t matter to the family what the facts are, they’re going for their pound of flesh from any source they can find. The teachers are the logical choice since they’re going to be held accountable regardless of the facts in the case. Teachers are always the first one blamed and the last ones thanked for what they do. Parents fail to raise their children properly and the blame is always put on the teachers. While the death of this boy is tragic, it was the parents responsibility to notify the proper authorities. It’s my understanding that the parents waited to tell the school about what was going on. Teachers are not mind readers. They are forced to be surrogate parents due to the failings of the real parents.

lil

May 8th, 2009
10:43 am

the “proper authorities” love to sweep the complaints under the rug.

motherjanegoose

May 8th, 2009
10:55 am

My heart absolutely goes out to this family for their tragedy.

Our son experienced other students who were rude to him and taunted him when he was in the 5th grade at Walnut Grove Elementary School, Gwinnett County.
( he is in college now). His teacher invited us in and told us that her heart went out to him as most of the other students had been at the school since Kindergarten and that was the first year the school opened. They considered him an outsider and would not accept him into their school clique.

Our son was a gifted student and tall, well liked at his previous school. His demeanor plummeted and we did not know what to do. Once he made through middle school and to high school , he was in much better shape. What if he had NOT made it.

I am in Kindergartens now and see cocky 5/6 year olds. I am not talking about children who are up to their usual spring friskiness ( this is to be expected). I am talking about defiant children who obviously acquired their little attitudes in their home environment or at least groomed these attitudes while their parents looked on with apathy.

Reality, you are correct, in that the teachers cannot do EVERYTHING. Our society is in bad shape and until parents return to :
“If I find out you got in trouble at school, you will be in double trouble with me…”
NOTHING IS GOING TO WORK. Perhaps we could require the parents of the ill willed children to substitute in a classroom for a week….LOL…MAYBE their eyes would be opened.

Erin

May 8th, 2009
10:58 am

Oh, please … the teachers didn’t see the bullying because: (a) they chose not to see it (b) they’re in major CYA mode or (c) the kids are just REALLY good at doing it in ways and at times when no adult would ever see anything or notice anything amiss. Or some combination thereof.

I have a LOT more I could say on this, but I’ll refrain for the moment. Be back later,

VOICE

May 8th, 2009
11:03 am

Reality, Ernest, you both make good points.

I would like to suggest that evidence of bullying is not required for the educators to at least document the allegations. If a child reports that they are being bullied, it should be documented. The report alone is sufficient. Whether disciplinary action is taken at that point is another matter. From that point, however, the specific behavior of the alleged bully should be monitored closely. If a pattern developes, then severe disciplinary action should take place, including criminal prosecution. Throughout this process, all parents should be notified.

This problem has gone unchecked for entirely too long, and not witnessing the bullying or having concrete evidence is no excuse for not taking appropriate action.

Reality

May 8th, 2009
11:31 am

VOICE – So then, are you saying that….

If a teacher doesn’t see the action, if the teacher isn’t told of the action, if the teacher isn’t responsible for the action, and if the teacher isn’t the one to teach the students how to behave like humans (that’s the parent job, right?), THEN the teacher is still at fault?

Give me a break!

Gordon

May 8th, 2009
11:40 am

Let’s face the facts: The administrators do everything they can to sweep all disciplinary problems (including bullying) under the rug. I was tickled to see John Trotter giving them heck over the situation in DeKalb. It goes on everywhere, but especially in the large systems. I have taught for nearly 30 years, including in DeKalb and Clayton. This is the worst problem in public education today…no discipline.

Meme

May 8th, 2009
11:47 am

Much of the bullying in school goes on where the adults don’t see it. Jaheem was choked in the restroom. As a female teacher, I am not allowed to go in there unless I hear a problem. We have no male teachers on our hall and if they were to stand in the restroom, some parents would complain. I stick my head in the girls restroom to tell them it is time to get out and go in if I hear a problem.

I have had one student to bully others in front of me this year and I think that because she is a girl, she thought that nothing would happen to her. She gave me a nasty look after being sent to the office for the third time and I told her that I was going to send her every time I saw her put her hands on someone or threaten them. She stopped. Now, I have no idea what went on in the office with the administrators, but I did everything that I was suppose to do.

Reality

May 8th, 2009
11:56 am

Now, come on Meme! You are a teacher. You are supposed to do everything for everyone. Stop complaining and just be God, already.

Meme

May 8th, 2009
12:26 pm

V for Vendetta

May 8th, 2009
12:41 pm

There are two camps here: There are those who believe that the teachers could have done SOMETHING more than they did, and there are those who believe that the bullying took place outside the confined of the classroom and the boundaries of teacher supervision. I think both are right but for different reasons. First, I agree with Reality in the sense that teachers can’t do everything; they’re not omniscient. However, schools DO sweep many, many (many!) discipline problems under the rug in an effort to placate NCLB standards and complaining parents. Both parties could have done more, but the parents aren’t doing themselves any favors by lawyering up and grabbing as much TV air time as they can.

But I think there’s an underlying root cause that many people are failing to address (and that I mentioned on the last blog about this topic). What has happened to self esteem and kids’ personal views of themselves? Why would this kid solve the problem by taking his own life? There is almost nothing more depraved, sad, or just plain ignorant than suicide. Why did he feel that this was his only option?

When I was younger, it’s not as if bullies didn’t exist. They were present and just as fearsome as they are today. Regular beat-downs were issued to kids in my grade all of the time, and this was at a “good” school! My father’s edict was simple: Don’t EVER, under any circumstances, start a fight . . . but you darn well better FINISH one.

Someone on the last blog we had in regards to this topic pointed out that schools won’t allow a student to fight back, and that’s absolutely true. (According to most schools, the victim is just as guilty. Go figure.) It was no different at my school where I grew up, but my father told me he wouldn’t punish me for standing up for myself. (He also told me that if I ever started a fight then I might as well stay at school . . . because he’d kill me when I got home.)

I’m not blaming parents, but where are these important life lessons? Where is personal advocacy? Where is accountability? What ever happened to STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF?

dbow

May 8th, 2009
12:51 pm

In my school district, bullying is described as a repeated occurance. So if one kid calls another (insert derogatory remark) once, it’s not bullying. I won’t deny that adminstrators sweep these things under the rub because I know that they do. Schools are graded on the their behavior problems just as they are graded on the CRCT. I was on a hit list and never knew about it until another teacher found out by accident. Their explanation was that they would have told me if they felt it was a credible threat. What gall. The parents will probably never know for sure what went on or didn’t at the school, but don’t automatically blame the teachers.

AlreadySheared

May 8th, 2009
1:10 pm

Courtesy of Chuck Berry via Mr. George Thorogood:

=============================================
Wailin’ down the freeway
adjust the cruisin’ power
The state trooper clocked me at ninety miles an hour
It wasn’t me
No no sheriff it wasn’t me
Well you must have met some other body,
No, no it wasn’t me

Well you say you saw my car parked
By the drive-in one night
Came over to speak to me but I was outta sight
It wasn’t me
No no baby it wasn’t me
That must’ve been some other body,
No, no child it wasn’t me

I met a German girl in England
Who was goin’ to school in France
Said we danced the Mississippi at an Alpha Cappa dance
It wasn’t me
Woo, it wasn’t me
Yeah, you must’ve met some other body,
No, no child it wasn’t me
=========================================

Yeah, sure, nobody saw nuthin – all a big surprise! Who knew?

Poor kid.

Danteach

May 8th, 2009
1:15 pm

Being a teacher, I have to say that the teachers dropped the ball on this one. I have had students getting bullied, and found the bullies and asked them to cut it out or they would have to answer to me. The bullying stopped.

These kids are not going to do it if there is a teacher around. And a kid getting picked on like that, it should have been nipped in the bud.

dbow

May 8th, 2009
1:40 pm

Danteach, that may work for you, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Maybe you have a supportive admin. We have a dress code that we try to enforce, but when we do, the admin sends them back without so much as a warning. No back up from the heads of the school equals no discipline on the parts of the students.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Evans

May 8th, 2009
2:59 pm

Will anything change in our schools? Only if WE change them.

dbow

May 8th, 2009
3:26 pm

Nothing will change until we bring back the belief in personal responsibility. Our society is in a downward spiral because we have allowed our schools, government, and homes to be run by a vocal minority that espouses to know what’s best for us. Tolerance is the latest buzz word, but depending on which group is advocating it, it only works one way. Look at poor Ms. california. She was asked a question, she answered it from her heart and she’s been vilified in the liberal press by the very same people that complain about anti this and that. It has everything to do with personal responsiblity. Everyone blames everybody else.

Allen

May 8th, 2009
4:21 pm

It’s amazing to me that I’m reading blame for a./ the teachers (what about the “administration” a term which gives DCSS a little too much credibility), who I do think could have at minimum been more attentive b./Jaheem’s parents and c./Jaheem (”stand up for yourself”)

How about we hold the thugs who drove the poor boy to this and their useless parents responsible? Morally, civilly, and legally responsible. Named in public, sued for every food stamp they got, and thrown in jail responsible.

motherjanegoose

May 8th, 2009
5:20 pm

Allen…amen to paragraph two.

Here is a question I have….I heard 2 teachers and a police officer discussing this last night, here is what was said:

It would be better if we had year round school ( for a number of their reasons) and then…

there are kids who do not have enough food to eat all summer….when they are in school we know they eat a FREE breakfast and lunch….it is not fair for these children to be hungry ( for so long) while they are not in school …..

HELLO….I would certainly help any child who is hungry that I knew about BUT where do we draw the line for those parents who are responsible tax payers with a family they can perhaps afford to feed that we need to alter the school schedule to be sure children that are not ours are fed?

Am I missing something? I do not have a dog in the year round school fight but should we do it because some parents are not feeding their children?

T&Cmom

May 8th, 2009
7:12 pm

River

May 8th, 2009
8:46 pm

Crawford Lewis is a joke of a superintendent. The school board looks incompetent as long they leave him in there. He needs to go.

V for Vendetta

May 8th, 2009
8:57 pm

Allen, you’re absolutely right. However, I’m approaching the issue from the standpoint that bullying is going to continue. Irrational humans will always feel as though they can rule others by force; they’ve been doing so since the dawn of man. Assuming the allegations are true, those little punks deserve whatever the law can throw at them–but it won’t change the fact that bullying exists.

dbow, Miss California has been vilified because she said a bunch of ignorant garbage that shouldn’t have any place in a “free” society. She deserves to bear the backlash of her actions–ACCOUNTABILITY, remember?

motherjanegoose, I agree that the food argument is downright pathetic. The last time I checked, peanut butter, jelly, and bread were not very expensive. (The new Kroger “value” bread is $.79!) It is absolutely disgusting that our tax dollars are used to feed kids whose parents drop them off in leased BMWs but declare themselves eligible for free/reduced lunch programs.

motherjanegoose

May 10th, 2009
8:50 pm

V,oh yes, last year ( when gas was $4 per gallon) I saw parents whose children probably ate free lunch, driving their children to school in cars I could not afford. Hello….if you can afford to drive your child to school and pay $4 for gallon of gas, you can afford $1.50 for lunch or is my math THAT rusty.

IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT THIS?

Lee

May 10th, 2009
10:19 pm

Oh good grief, the school system is in full bore CYA and the more they talk, the more foolish they appear.

First of all, you don’t just “go to sleep” after being put in a “sleeper hole [sic]“. Your brain has been deprived of oxygen and you are unconscious – not asleep. Big difference. However, the brain dead “culture chair” (???? whatever the hell that is) probably doesn’t realize that small fact.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times on this blog, between the hours of 7am to 3pm, the responsibility to provide a safe environment for the student population is solely that of the teachers and administrators of said school. Period. For a teacher or administrator to say otherwise is merely an abdication of that responsibility.

According to all the news reports, this mother went to the school numerous times to report the bullying. If that is true, then the school shoulders a lot of the blame for this tragic event.

The bottom line is that schools no longer deal with the troublemakers and as a result, they are free to prey upon the smaller and weaker student.

Seems as though the biggest mistake parents make nowadays is that they ‘trust’ the schools to do the job that they were hired to do.

Bill

May 11th, 2009
8:15 am

Where are the CRCT scores? We were supposed to receive them Friday so we can begin ramping up the kids who need to retest in order to be promoted. Has anyone heard if any schools have gotten their scores back? I know that many systems are planning to use the final two weeks of school for CRCT review and then retest the kids who failed during post planning.

dbow

May 11th, 2009
9:48 am

Hey V, your take on Ms. California is so way off it’s not even funny. Why is it that tolerance is a one way street with you homosexuals?

V for Vendetta

May 11th, 2009
11:12 am

Haha. Thank you for proving my point, dbow. You’ve illuminated your ignorance for us all to see. Last time I checked, this was a FREE country. Marriage is a civil union as much as it is a religious one. Because of that, gay couples should NOT be denied the right to marry by the government. It amounts to legislating morality and religious viewpoints, which sort of subverts that whole Bill of Rights thing. People tend to forget that this is NOT a Christian nation, it is a nation inhabited by many Christians. Gotta love that Christian tolerance!

dbow

May 11th, 2009
11:46 am

Hey V, lets take the liberal agenda off the table for a minute and answer my question. Why is tolerance a one way street? If I espouse my religious belief that homosexuality is wrong I’m labeled a hater and a bigot and whatever else. Nowhere did I say your evil or going to ruin my marriage or whatever, but because I disgree with you, I’m automatically labeled as intolerant? That makes you the intolerant one.

V for Vendetta

May 11th, 2009
1:19 pm

dbow, please tell me you’re smarter than this. If your religious beliefs said that black people were evil, would that be OK? If your religious beliefs said that all people named Steve should be condemned on sight, would that be OK?

No, of course not. I’m not abridging your freedom of speech; I’m simply exercising my own. When religion teaches bigoted and intolerant beliefs, condemning people for something they cannot help, then those who espouse such beliefs are themselves bigots.

V for Vendetta

May 11th, 2009
2:32 pm

By the way, how am I the intolerant one when you’re religion is espousing intolerant viewpoints?

Northern Visitor

May 11th, 2009
7:39 pm

Good arguement V. Of course you realize that you are wasting it on these slack-jawed yokels?

echo

May 11th, 2009
10:07 pm

Bullies have always existed and always will. They eventually grow up and become school administrators or personal injury lawyers.
If this boy was bullied, it is unfortunate. But to blame teachers and the school is putting the blame on those with the deepest pockets (for obvious reasons), not where it really belongs. BTW, where were the parents when this boy hung himself? Just as the parents can claim they can’t supervise their child 24/7 neither can schools (with MANY more students) be liable for all the stupidity children dish out when noone is watching.

As for Ms. Cali…she is entitled to her opinion but she really looks like a bit of a hypocrit when she claims to be a “good christian” and yet she has a boob job and some trashy pictures floating around. Not that there is anything wrong with boob jobs and trashy pictures….I’m just saying…

BIC

May 12th, 2009
2:26 pm

Mmmm…V, “People tend to forget that this is NOT a Christian nation” WOW!!!! Didn’t the settlers come to the United States for religious freedoms…you know “In God We Trust”… “One Nation under God”. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with organized religion…and some of us recognize that…but there’s a lot of homosexual intolerance too. Some homosexuals are just as guilty of trying to cram their opinions off on others. “Gay Rights” “Black Rights” “Animal Rights” “Hispanic Rights” …enough already!

Northern Visitor…why are you still here…go home! No cares what you have to say…you show your ignorance everything you submit a comment.

Northern Visitor

May 12th, 2009
6:18 pm

“…you show your ignorance everything you submit a comment.”

pot meet kettle ;)

V for Vendetta

May 12th, 2009
7:38 pm

Enough with gay rights, black rights, and hispanic rights? I guess you have to be straight, white, and Christian to live in this country, eh?

Lee

May 12th, 2009
8:34 pm

According to V, this is “ignorant garbage….”

“…I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be – between a man and a woman.”

The only reason Ms California is being vilified is that she didn’t spout the usual vapid, mealy mouthed, politically correct crap that we are accustomed to.

So, according to some “teachers” on this blog, we have the freedom of speech in this country, just as long as you are politically correct about it.

That about right, V?

V for Vendetta

May 12th, 2009
11:19 pm

Lee, I never said she didn’t have a right to say what she said, nor did I say that the press didn’t have a right to pound on her if it so desired–and I obviously have a right to say whatever I want. That’s what living in a free country is all about. So according to you, asserting that anyone who desires to get married can do so is “the usual vapid, mealy mouthed, politically correct crap that we are accustomed to”? That seems rather narrow minded, don’t you think?

Lee

May 13th, 2009
8:46 pm

Modus Operandi for the politically correct:

If someone says something negative about blacks, call them racists, bigots, and accuse them of hate speech.

If someone doesn’t like the tens of millions of illegal alien invaders in this country, call them xenophobic, bigots, and accuse them of hate speech.

If someone says something negative about Jews, call them anti-semitic, bigot, and accuse them of hate speech.

If someone says something negative about homesexuals, call them homophobic, bigots, and accuse them of hate speech.

If someone espouses the traditional view of marriage, call them narrow minded, stupid, unenlightened.

If someone says something negative about a straight, white, protestant male, ugh, well, that’s okay.

That about do it V?

ShoeShee

May 16th, 2009
9:24 pm

“If someone says something negative about a straight, white, protestant male, ugh, well, that’s okay.”

Okay? Heck – it’s downright sport!