Friday, April 24, 2009

CNN Reports on Jaheem and Bullying

This is an excellent, honest report on the problem with bullying in schools. One revelation is that we have focused on racial bullying and racial equality, however, most bullying is over sexual issues. Barbara Coloroso, author of "The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander", gave great advice - do not minimize, rationalize or explain it away. Bullies must be held accountable. Restorative justice for bullies requires restitution, resolution and reconciliation.

What can we do as parents, to implement strong anti-bullying initiatives in our children's schools - or how can we at least through the PTA's, ensure that the policies in place are being taken seriously?


Kim Gokce said...

I think the most powerful point made by the teacher and parent in this interview is about bystanders. Social pressure and enforcement of norms is extremely powerful and has not reached the level necessary to stamp out bullying.

No matter what policies are made or pledges signed, each student and school employee must believe they have the full support of the administration and the community to stop bullying - this means clear actions by decision makers and authority figures and not just words.

Bystander children must feel empowered with the full authority of the school and community or they will not have the confidence to intervene to difuse bullying incidents. Even teachers get mixed messages when disciplinary action is applied unevenly by the administration.

Until discipline and consistency is brought to the discipline process, bullies will continue to have their way.

Anonymous said...

Still no word on this tragedy from Crawford Lewis. They are trying to "wait out the storm". Unbelievable.

No Duh said...

The author's point about bullying through verbal assault is dead on. And, is the reason it is so damn difficult to get to the bottom of the bullying cycle -- where's the evidence?

We typically think of bullying as one big kid shoving a smaller kid's face in the dirt. Witnesses, etc.

Not so. Pervasive psychological bullying is rampant in schools. And the author's point about the bully's need for control and power is a key differentiator between "trying to be funny" and "bullying." But, can the teachers tell which is which?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a fascination -- particularly among boys -- for words like, "gay, fag, faggot, nerd, jerk, dork, etc."

My 10-year-old and his friends are constantly saying things like: "That's so gay." "You're being gay." etc. as what I think they consider playful insults -- you know, yuck, yuck. It's like cussing they can get away with. To them, it's a throw-away word that they are just beginning to understand. And, when they're in our house I tell them to stop talking like that. Since, they're 10 years old, I suspect they start right back up when my back is turned. I don't think our son and his friends are bullys -- I think they're 10-year-old boys.

But, that is entirely different than walking up to a kid in the hallway and whispering, "You're gay."

Do we add these words to the cursing lexicon and ban them in schools? Would "fat," "pimples," "pigeon-toed" and "four-eyes" be next?

I can tell you that our family has used Jaheem's death as a teaching moment. And our son is now deeply pensive about it. I think he finally understands that what he thinks is funny may be horribly received by someone else.

If we can replicate that pensiveness throughout the county and celebrate by-stander heroism, we may have a start on curbing bullying and hurtfulness in DCSS.

Relational Aggression among girls (and boys) is an even tougher nut to crack. It's totally under the radar of teachers and administrators and is nearly impossible to prove. And, yet, is just as deadly.

Ella Smith said...

I have been working the last few days on a post. I guess I will post it now.

Ella Smith said...

There may be a reason Dr. Lewis cannot talk publicly about it. The parents are probable going to sue the school system. One or more of the students involved could be special needs students and this information is confidential information.

Anonymous said...

We live in an extremely litigious society. Whenever someone 'lawyers up', all communication is halted. Anything that is said could compromise the investigation. The board made a general statement and it probably had to be reviewed by the attorneys before it was given.

We don't know all the facts to this case, only what was reported by the newspaper and alleged by the mother. It is wise not to make public statements until all the information is known. Who knows, the school system may determine that it is cheaper to settle and include a non disclosure agreement for both parties with the terms. It has happened before. Time will tell....

Cerebration said...

In the bullying situation I was involved in, the bully's parents got a lawyer. We didn't - we (very stupidly) tried to work it out person to person. Biggest mistake of my life. We should have gotten our own lawyer. Bully got private school tuition. We got a bruised foot, small stab wound from a paper clip, no interrelated services for 2 months and nothing else.

I would never deal with the system again without legal representation.

Open+Transparent said...

Of course Crawford Lewis cannot speak about the exact detials of the Jaheem situation.

But he can have a public meeting/press conference about how the system handles bullying, what kind of priority it is for him, how he will personally takes steps to see that this doesn't happen again.

The school system has done NOTHING to reassure parents. The school system has done nothin to make us
sure they are capable pf preventing this again.

I'm sorry, but he's been a coward in this situation.

Cerebration said...

The system has been applauded by the media and experts for the excellent anti-bullying program they have in place. It apparently is pretty darn good. Problem is - it's all just in writing. Something is not getting communicated or some training needs to occur to ensure that the policy that is written is being implemented in the schools. I put this one on the disconnect between the administration and the schools as well as the principal and others at Dunaire who were alerted several times and did nothing.

Proper training or policy aside - once alerted, any human being with an ounce of decency would have taken it upon themselves to help this child.

themommy said...

A couple of things -- Dr. Lewis is (was) out of town at a conference last week. No excuse, for the system not saying anything -- but he wasn't here.

Second, CNN says the system plans a press conference early next week.

Third, generally speaking suicide is never caused by one thing. People have coping skills that allow them to deal with difficult situations. So, of course, there is more to this story.

Fourth, the insurance company usually makes the decision about settlement -- not the system.

Fifth, I wish we knew if this principal was any good and was doing a good job. Same for the counselors.

Who at the system level is checking (ok, now they are checking, but two weeks ago and earlier) up on whether the Too Busy to Hate program is being implemented at all and/or properly? I know at my kid's elementary school last year -- there was a big flurry of activity last year when the program started.

Ok, so I just asked my youngest (who is in ES) and is just 8 -- if they talk about bullying at school. She said, we don't have any bullies at school. Really, I said. She said, yes. Then I said, will do they tell you what to do if you about bullies and she said yes, if someone hits you, you tell the teacher.

So, then I asked her, if someone calls someone names is that bullying. She said, yes and that you tell the teacher. She said it is hard, when the boys are playing games with each other to know what is bullying and what isn't. (Ok, she didn't say it exactly that way, I paraphrased.)

So, if I was a reporter at that press conference, I might ask to see documentation that the system was monitoring the program or I might ask is this just another program DCSS dumped on the schools and then moved on with no monitoring (character ed anyone)?

Cerebration said...


Superintendent to address boy’s suicide

DeKalb County schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis for the first time Monday will speak about the suicide of an 11-year-old student who took his life, his family says, because he was being bullied at school.

Lewis will hold a news conference at the system’s central offices. Jaheem Herrera was a fifth-grader at DeKalb’s Dunaire Elementary School. Jaheem hanged himself April 16. His mother, Masika Bermudez, said she had complained to school officials about the bullying and taunts Jaheem endured but their response was inadequate.

Jaheem’s family has asked for help in burying their son at their home in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The family asked donations be made at any Wachovia Bank to the Jaheem Herrera Memorial Fund. They have also hired a lawyer, Gerald Griggs, who said he will investigate the case.

—- Kristina Torres

I hope you will all stop by a Wachovia Bank this week and make a contribution to the Jaheem Herrera Memorial Fund. -Cere

Anonymous said...

A couple of my co-workers also have children in the DCSS school system and this incident was obviously took up a lot of our non-work conversation. While, my co-wrkers certainly decried the actions taken against the child, they asked, what actions, other than just putting the responsiblity back on the school, did this child's mother take. It is obvious this child was hurting and needed to talk to someone. Perhaps he had more issues going on than just the "bullying" and he needed some professional help. Was the child's pediatrician contacted? I know if my child seemed as down as this child, that would be the first place I would turn. This child's symptons did mirror depression. After the conversation this week, I did stop and think. Should this mother place ALL of the blame on DCSS? Didn't she have a responsibility for the mental health of her child? Just some questions we pondered.

Cerebration said...

Isn't that what school counselors are for? Isn't that what social workers are for? These are people new to this country (well - at least they were from US Virgin IS) - they needed public support. Why are we paying for all these people if not to help the least among us?

Anonymous said...

Those are legitimate questions cere and I agree with to a point, but ultimately we're all responsible for our own children.

Cerebration said...

I don't mean to be harsh - but you can't compare what parents with "wherewithall" and "means" would/should do to what poor, immigrants with virtually no experience in our systems would do. I would even go so far as to make the bet that they don't have a "pediatrician"... have you ever been to Grady? The place is mobbed with people without means.

The mother tried - the problem her child was having was with bullies at school. She took it up with what she perceived as leaders at the school. I'm sure she feels a heavy burden of blame - but there's plenty of highly trained, highly-paid people who could have and should have helped her.

Cerebration said...

Ultimately, we're all responsible for all children, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we are responsible for our own children. But then why did DCSS have such an alledged extensive anti-bullying in place, and it failed so miserably here?

The system has a full-time administrator making $100,000 per year just for the anti-bullying program, and it still failed here.

It's clear, the fancy schmacy anti-bullying program was all talk, no implementation.

Cere nailed it again: If there is no follow through, if no one from Central office is making sure the program is actual being used and is effective, then the program means nothing.

For the press conference, expect all whole lot of Crawford Lewis gobblygook, with him spending the whole time defending his system and bloated Central Office staff.

An effective leader admits the weaknesses and mistakes of his or his organization and leadership. Crawford Lewis has never ever recognized any failings of the system and staff. He acts and states that his staff and system always does the right thing, every time.

The press conference will be a whole lotta of a little too little a little too late.

Open+Transparent said...

Sorry, I wrote that last post.

Anonymous said...

No one was saying that DCSS did their job. No, DCSS did fail this child, all agreed, but my co-workers were also asking, "what else did this mother do to help her child"? "When the school officials didn't help, did she try law enforcement?" "Did she not recognize how deeply troubled her son was"? "The mother could have requested help herself from the school social worker - did she?" These were just some of the thoughts going around - not saying that I agree or disagree.

themommy said...

Very interesting interview on CNN just ended. Bill Nigut, who is now head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Bob Moseley (poor guy -- sacrificial lamb) were interviewed by both the CNN anchor and the David Mattingly, a reporter who has been following the story.

I didn't catch the whole thing, but it sounds like the ADL actually worked in Dunaire (as opposed to simply training the counselor and leaving it at that). I swear I thought Nigut said that Dunaire was a regional winner in something related to No Place to Hate.

I wonder under which principal, as I think the current one is new this year. Mattingly pointedly asked about the culture of the school (as opposed to asking about this specific case, because Moseley already said they couldn't talk about it) and Moselely and Nigut both said they would all be studying it and reviewing it.

Nigut said his organization is heartbroken....

Anonymous said...

themommy, I saw that as well and yes, I got the impression from Bill Nigut that his organization was working with Dunaire on this issue. Here's the video of the interview with Nigut and Mosely:

Anonymous said...

Ok, Dunwoody Mom is on her soapbox.
This is from the AJC.COM article today:

Normally, Jaheem played in the backyard of the family’s apartment complex after school. He did back flips, which scared his mom. But not on this Thursday. He stormed into the apartment, as cranky as he’d been that morning.

“What’s wrong with you?” Bermudez asked.

Jaheem’s sister, Yeiralis, who’d witnessed the lunchtime insults, filled in her mom. That just made her brother angrier.

“Oooooh!” Jaheem screamed.

Bermudez turned to her son. “Go upstairs!” Some TV, she thought, would help her son cool down.
So, her son was upset and she sent up to his room to watch television? Unbelievable. She didn't even try and talk to him? Using the tv to calm him down? Maybe had SHE talked to him rather than sending him to watch tv a different outcome would have occurred.

Sorry, I blew up when I read that.

themommy said...

Also, they had moved. Why didn't this mother change her children's school? The article said they had moved from St. Mountain to Avondale Estates.

I am not trying to blame the victim-- but there are so many lessons from this situation to go around.

Kim Gokce said...

"Maybe had SHE talked to him rather than sending him to watch tv a different outcome would have occurred."

Discussing the hypothetical complicity of the mother of this sad boy's death?! A child has taken his life by his own hand for reasons we only vaguely understand.

Jaheem's mother is talking to the press in the middle of her grieving for the DEATH OF HER SON and searching to understand the unthinkable as a parent. Surely, we can give her the benefit of the doubt for a time until the truth comes out. Until it does, I say leave her alone in her grief.

Criticize the system, criticize the programs, and decry the apparent lack of discipline in many of our schools, blame God, but let's not judge this mother's parenting skills now or ever. The boy is dead. Dead.

Those of you who are mothers must know that she will question herself everyday for the rest of her life about every moment she spent with her son. No matter how many times she replays these moments of his brief life, the story always ends with his death ... every time, forever.

Leave her to her own, private hell, please.

Cerebration said...

Nicely put, Kim. There's plenty of blame to go around. But I do give Jaheem's mother credit, she went to school officials several times. I'm sure no one could have ever dreamed this would be the outcome.

And yes, Bill Nigut said that ADL had worked with Dunaire and that they are heartbroken over this. I'm sure that they are - ADL is a very sincere group and works against discrimination in any form against anyone. Somehow, I have the feeling that ADL did the work at Dunaire, and as Mosely said, Dunaire won a regional award for their participation. However - it really doesn't take long for the pendulum to swing back to its original place. Maintaining the program would be up to the principal (aren't principals in charge of discipline?)

Or - the principal could have referred the family to the counselor or any number of other resources. It's really not fair to judge this family from our perches. We have many advantages that this family did not. One, namely being, we have been working with DCSS for many years - this mother was new - not only to DCSS, but to Georgia and the mainland.

In fact, another component of Title 1 is parenting classes and training. Were those offered and promoted at Dunaire? I know that they are offered countywide, but we all know that communication from the main office is not getting out effectively.
It's all a tall order, but our school system collects millions upon millions in Title 1 funds to help with all of these issues.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Kim, this mother does not get a total pass in my book. After her child killed himself - what did she do? Give interviews to every tv station in Atlanta and to CNN - she did not grieve privately.

Had she listened to her child that afternoon, had she given him a hug and told him she loved him rather than sending him up to watch television, maybe the outcome would have been different.

Sorry, if you feel that's harsh, but that's just the way I feel - bash away.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that information about Title 1 programs and the Parent center brochure is sent home - my children bring them home and our schools are not even Title 1 schols.

Cerebration said...

So, what happened to the link to counseling? Apparently, this school has TWO counselors (for a school with only 650 students.) Mrs. Kristy Frye makes $64,288.00 and Ms. Joy Gatewood makes $68,227.00. This is an ELEMENTARY school, so these ladies don't have to help with college applications, schedule planning, etc. Add to that, Dr. Carolyn Thompson who makes $116,092.00 as principal - along with her TWO assistant principals - Mrs. Rose M. Lockett at $80,538.00 and Mr. Charles Wood at $75,339.00 and I have to wonder - why didn't these administrators who are costing taxpayers over $400,000 a year help this poor woman? This is their JOB - discipline, parent meetings, counseling and maintaining what the schools website claims to be a goal, "To maintain a safe an orderly learning environment."

State law says this in its FTE Q&A,

· What are the new counseling time requirements under the “A+ Education Reform Act” (HB 1187)?"

School counselors are now required to spend a minimum of five of the six full-time equivalent program count segments directly counseling or advising students or parents.

· How does the Student Support Services division make the distinction between guidance and counseling?

Guidance is defined as helping all students receive support from parents, teachers, counselors, and others to make appropriate educational and career choices. Guidance is based in a school environment. Counseling is helping some students at certain times receive support from credentialed professionals in order to help them overcome personal and social problems which may interfere with their learning.

· Will there be a Resource Guide to use with the curriculum?

Yes. An Implementation Guide is in the process of being developed to use as a companion piece with the Guidance and Counseling Curriculum.

Cerebration said...

Glad to hear those Title 1 parent info sheets are making it home to you, DunwoodyMom. That's not always the case. It's an extremely difficult task to communicate the existence of these programs and an even more difficult task to get a lot of participation.

I realize that there are many, many ineffective parents in the world. I just don't think it's right to allow their children to suffer just because of their home situation. If we want to break these cycles, it's going to take an awful lot of work by an awful lot of people. You can't just create a program, send out a flyer and expect to resolve issues.

Sadly, our schools are our only hope to instill the proper values, enlighten minds and help families heal. To that end, we pay for and employ counselors, social workers, assistant principals for discipline and resource officers in addition to offering parenting programs and training. Do we need more? I don't know. Do we need to do all we can to encourage the use of the resources we now offer - you bet.

Cerebration said...

I guess my point is, these programs and counselors exist - but we can't expect parents to instinctively know how to access them. When Jaheem's mother went to the principal - the principal should have guided and referred her and Jaheem to help.

Somehow, it seems, no action was taken whatsoever.

Kim Gokce said...

@Dunwoody Mom: "Sorry, if you feel that's harsh, but that's just the way I feel - bash away."

Sorry, not interested in bashing anyone. You've articulated your opinion and I mine. What we think of this woman is pretty much immaterial. We can agree to disagree without hijacking this thread and turning it into something about us rather than a dead boy, a grieving family, and a system under question. No offense taken, none offered.

Kim Gokce said...

I am not sure where others on this thread went to school but I can tell you from my personal experience that talk about discipline and appropriate behavior is very cheap and kids look at action for their cues.

If our children do not see demonstrable evidence of swift and unequivocal discipline for bullies by parents, teachers, and administrators, they keep their mouths shut when it comes to this activity.

They are more worried about avoiding being the target of bullying or ostracism than heeding what is said by the system.

Cerebration said...

My gal for school board, Shayna Steinfeld, wanted to implement programs that partner with churches. I thought that idea had potential.

ps - so glad we can have such civilized discussions where even if we disagree, we still respect each other. This doesn't happen on many blogs -- you guys are all right!

Kim Gokce said...

Can you imagine if we had volunteer support services from mosques, synagogues, and churches? Putting aside the absolute political firestorm such a proposition would create, it would be nice to have a legion of folks who want to help the situation at our disposal ... for free! No wonder she didn't get elected ... :)

Cerebration said...

Lawyer for family of boy who killed himself files intent to sue school system
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The attorney representing the mother of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera, who hanged himself last month, has filed an intent to sue the DeKalb County School System.

School officials have 30 days to answer the claim, though Masika Bermudez’s lawyer expects the suit to go forward.

“We will be asking for a substantial amount,” said Gerald Griggs, whose complaint alleges negligence by Dunaire Elementary School officials. Jaheem’s mother said she complained to them about relentless bullying of her son, but that the abuse didn’t stop. She believes it ultimately led Jaheem to kill himself.

Four former teachers said they never witnessed the alleged bullying, according to internal memos written after Jaheem’s death on April 16.

DeKalb school officials said they won’t comment on the case until an internal investigation was completed. Retired Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore is leading the review into the events surrounding Jaheem’s death.

“Our goal is justice and accountability,” Griggs said. He expects the case will go to trial.

“If they aren’t going to fight it they’ll be settling a lot of other cases,” said Griggs, who represents other parents of Dunaire students who he alleges were also bullied.

A “significant majority” of any money awarded to the family — via settlement or jury verdict — would go toward funding the Jaheem Herrera Foundation, he said.

“We want to set up educational programs that would work to eliminate bullying,” Griggs said.

Cerebration said...

Check out this latest story - it covers bullying AND bad parenting --

No Duh said...

Cere, thanks for posting that link.

Her 17-year-old "baby" attends a school where "all the students have had trouble" and she acts as if the whole thing is a big mystery to her.

The most shocking omission? Where did her son get a sawed off shotgun? And why didn't she seem to care? Maybe instead of making herself available to Pam Martin, she should be down at the jail asking her "baby" to name the gun owner.

I know, I know "guns don't kill people..." blah, blah...

Cerebration said...

Yep, and the irony -- the school's name -- SOAR Academy.


Cerebration said...

It looks like the independent judge found no evidence of bullying at Dunaire.

School district report: No evidence that boy who died was bullied's the main point of the report,

The retired DeKalb County judge investigating the alleged bullying of a Dunaire Elementary School student who hanged himself said there is no evidence the child was specifically targeted for bullying.

Retired Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore also said at a press conference Wednesday that an independent investigation shows Jaheem Herrera, 11, actively participated in several fights during the school year.

Jaheem, who attended Dunaire Elementary School in Stone Mountain, hanged himself April 16.

Jaheem’s mother, Masika Bermudez, broke down crying 13 minutes into the press conference. Bermudez has insisted her son killed himself because of bullying at the school and that she had complained to school officials several times.

“My conclusion is there is no evidence of bullying at Dunaire,” Moore said. “There is name-calling and teasing, but it is almost always done outside of any adult [being present]. There is a code of silence among the students.”

Moore made the comments at a press conference at the school district’s headquarters on North Decatur Road near Clarkston.

Anonymous said...

DCSS not at fault in any way...what a surprise.

Cerebration said...

Apparently, this bullying issue is not going away anytime soon...

ATLANTA, GA (WABE) - The county's 3-month long probe into school bullying is coming under fire. Some are saying the investigation hasn't been transparent enough and now lacks credibility.

Sue Heslup is a long-time resident of Dekalb and the mother of two former students.

"There was a lot of information that was never shared, a lot of information withheld, a lot of parents in the dark...That's what I think people are upset about."

She says her main issue is that the county has yet to produce a written report on the suicide of 11 year old, Jaheem Herrera.

Dale Davis, the spokesman for Dekalb schools, says that any findings from the case are technically private. He says it's because the county's lead investigator - Judge Thelma Moore - is actually considered an attorney.

"The facts are these, Judge Moore's report is not public record, it is protected under attorney-client privilege."

But Jim Walls disagrees.

Walls is the editor of the news website, Atlanta Unfiltered, and has followed the investigation since the beginning.

He says Moore wasn't initially hired as an attorney. Originally, she was hired as an independent investigator.

"The superintendent had said he was going to have an independent investigation done, if she's now an attorney representing the school district, then whatever investigation she made is no longer independent."

Walls has been repeatedly turned away in his requests for information. He says Dekalb has only released Judge Moore's invoices, which for June alone totaled 165,000 dollars.

School spokesman Davis says in lieu of a written report, the county is offering a video recording of Judge Moore's May press conference.

"Ultimately when the investigation is concluded that in which we are legally bound to release, we will."

But Walls and others believe that without a written report, it'll appear Dekalb is just trying to cover itself from a potential lawsuit.

Gerald Griggs is the attorney for Herrera's mother and says this is exactly what's happening.

"Basically there's a brick wall being built. It indicates it's the school district's investigation, not some independent arbiter trying to search for truth."

Griggs wants the state to take over the investigation immediately.

Judge Moore could not be reached for comment.

Jonathan Shapiro, WABE News.
© Copyright 2009, WABE