DeKalb: Jaheem’s death not ‘a simplistic case of bullying.’

In issuing its final report on the suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, DeKalb County cited domestic violence in the home — documenting allegations of abuse against the boy’s mother by her live-in boyfriend – as a possible contributor in the child’s fatal actions.

After Jaheem hanged himself at home in April, his mother Masika Bermudez said he killed himself after being constantly bullied at school. But the report says his death could not be attributed solely to “a simplistic case of bullying.”

Indeed, the report reveals a complex and stressful life, including the family’s frequent upheavals; Jaheem had attended four schools in as many years, including in Gwinnett County and  St. Croix. He enrolled at DeKalb’s Dunaire Elementary in August 2008 after his family moved to an extended-stay motel nearby.

“The investigation reveals a multitude of complex and significant factors impacting” his life, the report said, including “serious domestic abuse” between Jaheem’s mother and her boyfriend.

The report documented domestic violence and other charges against Norman Keene, Bermudez’s live-in boyfriend. The incidents occurred in the family’s native St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Georgia.

There have been many allegations that DeKalb ignored repeated bullying in this case. There has also been an assumption by the public that all Jaheem’s problems centered on school.

But the research suggests that many other risk factors come into play in child suicides and that family violence in the home is among them. Like most people, I have known young people who have committed suicide and I also have written about suicides among children. I have sat with a dozen parents over my career as they puzzled and grieved over what led their beloved children to end their lives.

For children ages 9 to 12 years old, suicide ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in 2005. The risk factors include being bullied, but there are many others factors — chronic anxiety, previous suicide attempts, family violence, family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions, conduct disorder, child abuse, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and taking certain medications.

I know that many of you will insist that because DeKalb paid for the probe into Jaheem’s death, the findings are flawed and the school system is to blame.  But does this broader view of the family circumstances change that perception?

30 comments Add your comment

Vince

August 27th, 2009
11:59 am

Jaheem’s death was indeed tragic.

Some people will always blame the public schools for any societal problem, trend or event. Schools are an easy scapegoat for the misdeeds and shortcomings of others. Just look at the scrutiny of SAT scores as one example. The SAT is an aptitude test that is very closely aligned to IQ….yet schools get compared for their effectiveness based on SAT scores. Geez…..

Ernest

August 27th, 2009
12:43 pm

There has also been an assumption by the public that all Jaheem’s problems centered on school.

Not sure I agree with this statement. If anything, prior to the judges report, most of the information the public got came from the family. Understandably, they are blaming the school system.

Bullying has been around for a long time. To pretend it does not happen is asinine. Many of us have either been bullies, been bullied, or witnessed bullying at some point in our lives. Most of the bullying that goes on in schools happens when teachers are not looking or around. Unless there is physical evidence, most of this becomes ‘he said, she said’ discussions.

Was this young student bullied at school? I’m not sure but from his mother’s accounts, there was a belief that he was. I believe from the judges original report in which she indicated bullying does not happen at the school probably inflamed the situation, not just for the family but for many in the community. I do agree with this report in that I don’t believe one can solely point to bullying as the cause of his death.

Looking at it from another standpoint, there is a liability issue here also. If any school system admits that bullying is the cause of a student committing suicide, you could bet lawsuits would come out of the woodwork’s. Who would ultimately pay for them? The citizens for that district.

Ernest

August 27th, 2009
12:44 pm

Oops, sorry for the double posting….

mdowney

August 27th, 2009
12:59 pm

Ernest, I deleted the duplicate. maureen

Maureen's accountability metric

August 27th, 2009
1:23 pm

“I know that many of you will insist that because DeKalb paid for the probe into Jaheem’s death, the findings are flawed and the school system is to blame.”

Nice try to marginalize anyone who may question the report Maureen. Would you care to tell us why, when a school system pays someone $170,000 for a “report” and then hesitates to release any written version of the “report” that people shouldn’t question the integrity of the report?

And speaking of organizations, and their employees, who wish to avoid accountability, have you asked Andre Jackson to come on here and address why his board hasn’t done a single editorial about the APS cheating scandal, even though it has made front page news in his paper?

Or is a cheating scandal, with a response that calls into question the very integrity of a school system, with enormous implications for the students in that system, simply not, as you like to say, a “pressing” issue?

Camille

August 27th, 2009
1:50 pm

Seen it all

August 27th, 2009
1:57 pm

MAM,

Tell me more about your opinion on the APS cheating scandal. I admit that I have not spent much time studying the matter. I know that there is cheating in other local school systems. Everyone looks the other way on the issue. The only people I have ever seen reprimanded, prosecuted, or fired were people (teachers or administrators) who were not liked by a superior(s). I remember the story of the principal at an elementary school in Gwinnett who lost her school because of a missing ACCESS test, I believe. Come to find out, some people in Gwinnett didn’t like this woman. An interesting side note- schools frequently misplace or lose standardized tests. It happens every year. No one loses a job over it or is even reprimanded.

I told people the story about a school, on the Needs Improvement list, whose principal and another administrator spent the weekend locked inside the school with the CRCT tests. This was days before the tests were to be turned into the county warehouse. The only people in the school were the principal and this other administrators. The tests and them. Them and the tests. Nothing bad happened to them. As a matter of fact, the principal was promoted to the central office at the end of the school year in question. Ironically, the school “made AYP” that year, although it hadn’t for years before that.

jim d

August 27th, 2009
2:19 pm

the fault is totally in the parenting

jim d

August 27th, 2009
2:19 pm

the fault is totally in the parenting

NA

August 27th, 2009
2:58 pm

I also think that the young man lost his grandmother, that he was close to, and then lost his uncle to violence. I would think that all of these things put together would contribute to his suicide.

d

August 27th, 2009
9:56 pm

So many horrible things were in this child’s life. My only question is if the bullying was as severe as the mother claims, why did she not transfer him to the school where he was districted? That could have removed at least one.

Turd Ferguson

August 28th, 2009
7:42 am

Its sad for this kid. The real shame is all the ignorants that came running from the woodworks shouting down schooling, bullying etc. Just another group of ill-informed,disenchanted chowder-heads looking for any excused to raise He-ll about something…anything.

Attention Losers…get a job!

Theresa Edwards

August 28th, 2009
10:35 am

The real truth here is a child needed us and NONE of us were there. The adults in this young man’s life were all at fault, the bullies, the teachers, the adminstrators, the parents, you and I. I truly question the validity of this report. First and foremost you have to ask yourself WHY did the SD request and then pay for this report? At, no other time has an SD done this, think about it logically. We have children murdered in schools across the nation using Restraints and the SD never does an investigation, so why now. Or was it to throw the suspicion onto someone else. Nope can’t blame us look he’s another one of those people, it came from there. Here in the South the on going belief from some of our Representatives is “these children are all bad and henceforth deserve what they get” or “these people all come from low income places and they are never going to amount to “Nuthin” no how”. So why waste our precious time caring about another human being. The answer to this question lies within each of us, but say just for once we answer because they are human beings just like us and therefore deserve to be treated the way we want to be treated. And, for a closing thought remember this little boy is gone and we will now never know what his potential could’ve been.

Brenda

August 28th, 2009
3:08 pm

“…The risk factors include being bullied, but there are many others factors — chronic anxiety, previous suicide attempts, family violence, family history of suicide or psychiatric conditions, conduct disorder, child abuse, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and taking certain medications…” Nope, none of them applied to my son. Jared was happy, spoiled with love and safe at home, but he was bullied and assaulted at school. …So I guess bullying was the only thing to explain Jared’s suicide. Jared High’s mom

Old School

August 28th, 2009
8:55 pm

Just spitballin, but I feel a somewhat broader view of that social phenomenon, known as bullying in the schools, may be in order. First of all, bullying has always been a problem in the schools. Less-sophisticated/less-mature individuals will always attempt to establish a “pecking order” of sorts within any organization in which their self-esteem seems threatened (this sort of nonesense occurs, even within the adult world, in the work place, social environments, etc…but thats another story). In previous generations, prior to the advent of the “pc” world, kids handled kid problems in kid fashion. The school yard fight, which more times than not gravitated to a “Friday night at the fights” at the local Dairy Queen, was practically “de reguer” of the school experience.

1) Kids didn’t pull knives, shoot guns or, in any fashion, display an advantage, in any form, over the other guy. To do so would mean certain social castigation.

2) Kids who, at one time, assumed the roles of opposing combatants almost always had a newfound respect toward one another. It mattered little who had “won” the fight.

My comments are, in no way whatsoever, intended to display a lack of sensitivity toward this young boy and his family. I have seen much senseless death in my checkered life; the tragedy of this young lad stuns my soul and renews my grief of many tragedies-past.

Solutions to the bullying within the schools are many; fingers of responsibility are pointed in every direction; all of these proposed cures hold value of one degree or another. I am simply proposing a solution upon which I have always relied…A RETURN TO “NON-PC-INFILTRATED” BASICS.

Question about Jaheem's mom?

August 29th, 2009
8:31 am

Jaheem’s mother and lawyer should just quietly close the subject. I’m sure her lawyer is assuming the school system will just offer a settlement with no trial. There does not seem to be any reason for this lawsuit to go forward. There were obviously a myriad of reasons this child took his own life – bullying was most likely not that reason.

And for Jaheem’s mother: What mother would keep her children in such a violent home?

Ernest

August 29th, 2009
12:40 pm

Well said, Old School! I spoke to a teacher who worked with visiting teachers from the UK. They were amazed that we did not offer recess in elementary schools. The rationale being kids need time to ‘blow off steam’ and learn how to resolve problems on the playground. Sounds like a simplistic solution but could that help?

Cere

August 29th, 2009
1:03 pm

For insight regarding how children work out peer-related issues (as they should) on the playground, read, “Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child” by Stanley Greenspan. Enlightened facilitators in special education are all working with Greenspan tactics called “Floortime” and making great strides with children with autism. These principals apply to all children though – all children need to learn how to properly express their feelings and “play” alongside others without confrontation. Much of this can, should and used to be worked out on the playground. Nowadays, children are “handled” all of the time by teachers and structure and never quite learn these early playground lessons.

Cere

August 29th, 2009
1:05 pm

Of course, the playground time in monitored by adults, but unstructured.

For some reason, we are raising a whole bunch of out of control young people who by the time they are teens, can only seem to work out issues by using violence. What is going on these days?

ScienceTeacher671

August 29th, 2009
9:31 pm

“Back in the day” it seems we were on the playground quite a bit, and I’m sure the teachers were somewhere in the vicinity but I don’t actually recall their presence nearby…and I’m sure they didn’t see or hear everything that went on.

Cere

August 29th, 2009
10:13 pm

We had nuns. They saw and heard everything.

The Sarge

August 29th, 2009
10:52 pm

Cere, those Nuns were like Marine Corps Drill Instructors; they not only saw and heard everything, they knew what evil non-military thoughts filled the heads of the unsuspecting.

Old School

August 29th, 2009
11:10 pm

Ernest, thanks for your remarks on my “simplistic solution”. All-too-often, we find the “experts…the gurus” waving the magic wand of solutions over problems of contemporary living. These problems may range from the educational systems to the complexities of the economy. I have always believed that answers to complex issues lie in simplicity. There is absolutely no reason why complex issues which have vexed the generations cannot be dealt with in the simplistic fashion which has served those generations well. The limiting factor is political will (what else is new?) and a removal of governmental oversight in one of the most “publically intimate” issues…how we rear AND MANAGE kids, both at home and in the schools.

Regarding your last comment, “Could that help”? My reply…”It sure as heck can’t hurt”.

ScienceTeacher671

August 30th, 2009
11:16 am

I’m pretty sure that there were some things our teachers “didn’t see or hear” intentionally….like bullies getting their just desserts….

Cere

August 30th, 2009
3:02 pm

My mother-in-law was a second grade teacher for 30 years and tells many funny stories. One that is relevant here is about a little boy from the 1960’s with a bully reputation who raced in to the classroom from the playground (there is a door in each room leading directly outside) all dirty and in tears crying that he was beat up on the playground. My mother-in-law was asked “who beat you up?” and the boy pointed to a little girl in a crisp white dress. She asked the girl if she hit the boy, and the girl said that yes, she had. My mother-in-law asked, “why?” and the girl simply said, “he needed it!”

That boy never bothered anyone else the rest of the year.

Old School

August 31st, 2009
2:22 am

Good story, Cere. Girls in that age group generally tower over their male counterparts; height/weight advantages, as I recall, placed this kid, at St. Cicillians in Philadelphia, in awe of the giants playing basketball.

Old School

August 31st, 2009
11:08 am

Ernest and others: NONE of the above comments were posted by this (the original) Old School. I’ve not lead a “checkered life” nor have I anything to add to this particular blog. I suppose posting under my identity is a form of flattery but I’d rather that person select a different alias. . . please.

Meme

September 1st, 2009
1:32 pm

I am so sorry that this child killed himself. Over my 36 years of teaching, I have had a few students who made this decision. However, for the mother (and lawyer) of this child to state that the home environment had nothing to do with his death is so far off base. Someone smells money.

Old School

September 1st, 2009
11:51 pm

Old School transmitting @ 1108: I am the Original/Only Old School. Please do not consider my nom de guerre as community property, for I am THE Old School; my personal values, in all facets of my life, both private and professional, are (non-pc) OLD SCHOOL. The voice of common sense, no-frills, low-cost, high speed/low drag is ME, the original Old School!

Have a good day

Tina

September 8th, 2009
8:47 am

I truly believe the mother the child looks so happy in his pictures.I was onece bullied and i would tell my techer over and over and he would never do anything about it ive went to the office and they had to much to attend to so they didnt bother.I had that thought of killing my self to i was only 12 years old coming home from school cring everyday.Bullied is a big issue but Mother why did you leave ur dearest child in that school.