Monday, April 27, 2009

Today's Press Conference

CBS 46 Video
(slow to load up)

Superintendent Lewis held his press conference today. And he said some good things.

However, we found out today that Jaheem was choked to unconsciousness in December???

A parent, Mike Wilson, passionately interrupted the press conference and stated his daughter was bullied at Evandsdale Elem. and Henderson Middle over three years, even receiving a "death threat", and that he was stymied by the DCSS Central Office.

As Cere stated earlier on DCSW, you can have the best program in the world on paper, but if it isn't implemented, if it's effectiveness isn't reviewed, if it's just a paper tiger, then it means nothing. Why does DCSS even have a full-time administrator, Jennifer Errion, with the job title "assistant director of student support services, prevention-intervention", for such situations? The blame cannot be left just with the principal and school staff.

This investigation needs to be tough, and the school system needs to bring in outside experts to do so. The system's Internal Affairs Office led by Ron Ramsey does not have the credibility to run a tough, thorough, no holds barred investigation. I still would like to see the GBI or GA Attorney General's Office involved. Remember that Crawford Lewis went to Gwen Keyes for the Pat Pope investigation that has yielded nothing. Gwen Keyes is not going to give the public an investigation that will cause even an ounce of embarassment for Lewis and the school system. We need an outside review, and it needs to be brutally honest.


No Duh said...

Moving my comments from the other thread here.

"Just in case people are wondering about the lughead interrupting and spouting off about his child's "issue" during a press conference meant to discuss the tragic suicide of an 11-year-old boy...

I can tell you for a fact that his issues were properly handled by Evansdale and Henderson Middle School. He is a lose cannon. Evansdale has the best counselor in the system and one of the most "play-by-the-rules" principals I've ever met."

O&T, appreciate your passion, but one of the reasons it is so difficult to blame the system is that the children's personal information is confidential. Without the records, we must rely on what the parents SAID happened. And often, as is the case with this man from EES, it's just not true or so overblown that the truth is perverted

No Duh said...

Good for CBS 46. Their reporter was smart enough to know that a person who interrupts a press conference about the death of a child doesn't deserve mentioning on television!!

Cerebration said...

oh man, I didn't know he had been choked. that really just took my breath away. my heart is with his mother.

I hope this serves as the wake up call that it should. I get the feeling that Dr. Lewis sees it as such. I'm sure he and his administration is crushed. But I do think that there is a big disconnect between the top level admin and the schools themselves that needs to be addressed and resolved.

I found the above good "Daily Gazette" article on the topic - nationwide this is a big issue, which means this doesn't say much about the kind of children we are raising in this country - and the kind of adults they will become.

There are people working hard as well.

More parents are speaking out about bullying.
After her 13-year-old son Jared committed suicide in 1998, Washington state resident Brenda High sued her son’s school district, saying they failed to protect him from older children who bullied him. In the most serious incident, Jared was thrown against a wall in the gym by a much larger eighth-grader and beaten; afterward, he vomited and had blood in his urine.

High later founded the organization Bully Police USA to advocate for anti-bullying laws and policies and authored the book “Bullycide in America: Moms Speak Out About the Bullying/Suicide Connection.”
The term bullycide, she said, describes a suicide caused by bullying. “If we want to prevent kids from killing themselves, we’ve got to stop the bullying,” she said.
In addition, they noted this website on cyber-bullying -

Anonymous said...

Who said the child was choked to unconsciouness? Sorry - I can't get these to pull up on home PC - it's ancient!!

Cerebration said...

Pam Martin states this in her Channel 2 report - it's also reported in the others and Dr. Lewis admits being aware of it. I think this has cut to his core and he is very upset. He wants to meet with Jaheem's mother after they return from St. Croix. I think we can bet that he will make this Job 1 in his administration.

In fact, we saw glimmers of his anger over student's behaviors at the Marine Corps meeting. He was fed up with the baggy pants and the bad behaviors and he was saying then that he was going to start dealing with it and he was going to shock some people. Let's hope he does!!

Open+Transparent said...

No Duh, one of the thing that gets my goat is that the DCSS Central Office is such a huge massive bloated bureaucracy supposedly equipped to handle any situation, but when blank hits the fan, the principal takes the brunt of it.

I've seen time and time again when Central Office takes the credit for the good, and passes the blame to principals for the bad.

I actually liked a lot of what I heard from C Lew today. He needs to be angry. Jaheem was freaking choked to unconsciousness in December. Jennifer Errion and the principal should have dropped the hammer back then. Some people could and should lose their jobs because of this. And everyone at Dunaire knows who the bullies were. Those kids lost the right to remain at that school.

Anonymous said...

The county should hire J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb DA, to do an unbiased, thorough internal review. If the county does it themselves, everyone (including folks on this blog) will claim that it was not complete.

just a thought.

Ella Smith said...

I was impressed with what Dr. Lewis said.

When that child choked this sweet young man he should have been put in a police car and taken to see the judge. There is no excuse. The school board talks about working with the county but then they try to handle crimes like this themself. The young man's who did this rights ended when he committed the crime. The young man's rights ended when he bullied any child the first time.

Cerebration said...

So true, Ella. Can you imagine if a co-worker choked you to the point of unconsciousness in the bathroom at work? That person would be arrested that day - why do we tolerate this for children?

Ella Smith said...

This is a crime and should be handled by the police. We have a great school police officer now and it makes a great difference in our school.

I do believe Dr. Lewis was moved by the incidence and many of the school board members also. I know for a fact that many of them want more discipline in the schools. They will give Dr. Lewis the support he needs to turn things around regarding discipline in this school system. I do have faith.

No Duh said...

O&T you said you liked what Dr. Lewis said today -- as if you heard more than the very brief clips on the news. Were you there, or is the whole conference available somewhere on the world's worse website, of course I'm referring to the DCSS site. I haven't been able to find it.

Also, you said that the brunt of the problem lies with the principal. I think that's where it should be. Can you imagine if the Superintendent were to have to listen to every complaint from every parent (including those like the wacko from EES)? If the principal has solved the problem, or taken it to the next level, why should it go any higher once it's resolved? Maybe I'm not getting your point. Sorry if I'm not. I'm just so honked at the parent interrupting the press conference with his RESOVLED problem.

Yep, the "choked to unconsciousness" was a shocker. I'd heard about choked, but not the unconsciousness part (not that either is acceptable behavior). How in the world do you help an ELEMENTARY school child who is angry enough to Choke another child like that? I don't think any school counselor is qualified for THAT task.

Sadly, there is no place for a bully like that. You can remove him/her from the school, but you'd just move them to another school, endangering the next poor victim.

Dekalbparent said...

I can't seem to lose my cynicism...

I believe that the situation at Dunaire will be looked at closely, and (surely) action will be taken against those who allowed it to come to the point where a little boy thought he had only one way to make stop. I believe no further investigation of DCSS will take place.

I also believe that this sort of thing IS happening at other schools in DK and there are principals out there who are patting themselves on the back about how well they are doing when they SHOULD be thanking the stars that they didn't get caught out.

My child was bullied in 4th grade to the point where I removed her from the school. The biggest bully was the teacher who chose two kids from her class to be the goats (my child and one other). She set the example for the rest of the kids by excluding them from class activities, rolling her eyes when they spoke in class, and looking the other way when kids bullied and excluded these two students. The other child's mother actually moved to another district to get her kid out of the class, and told me that is why she did it.

The principal and school counselor acted like I was speaking Martian when I told them why I was removing my child from the school, but no one gave me a hard time when I took her school books and told them I would return them when I finished teaching her the required curriculum.

Cerebration said...

We can't deny that there appears to be a pattern here. The only thread I see is that the administration sets up what they consider to be very good policy and the schools are supposed to implement it - and it is assumed to work perfectly. The unspoken direction is - and the program works - so if it doesn't work for your school - you'd better not let us know or you'll be gone.

It's hard principals to replace a 6 figure salary these days - or assistant principals in the mid $80's. Contrary to what school officials may think - this kind of income doesn't exist everywhere. Same goes for teachers - teachers make very good money - many make $50-$70k. (Two of the WORST teachers I've ever met each made $70k per year.) The corporate world doesn't offer as much - and certainly not the same bene's and protections.

Yes, I understand that teachers work hard - but they get about 70 days off every year. Again - 10-15 vacation days and maybe 5 sick days - if you're lucky elsewhere. And guess what - the rest of us work hard too.

My point is - this is an issue of job fear, IMO. Don't report the bad news or we may have to suffer the consequences. Just put on your rose-colored glasses and march on through to retirement.

This fear of reporting needs to stop. Maybe DCSS needs to implement an anonymous hotline for kids and parents.

Dekalbparent said...

Cere at 6:35

Yes, yes. An anonymous hotline makes a lot of sense. It would mean the administration is sticking out its neck, but boy would it increase confidence of the public!

Cerebration said...

Speaking of programs, this school apparently also had another administrator - in addition to the principal, two assistant principals, two counselors, etc - they have a prevention/intervention specialist (whose name is interestingly - Ernest Brown - I don't think this is the same Ernest Brown who ran for school board - he's a computer guy - this must be different Ernest Brown - anyone know?) Anyway - Here's the info from the salary sheet that Kim and Ella brought to us in the Potato Head post -


Anyway - this is from the DCSS website - describing the job of the $62,984.00 Prevention/Intervention specialist -

"Violence Prevention

Positive School Discipline Plan
School-wide violence prevention program designed to increase positive school climate by reducing discipline problems and bullying.

Conflict Resolution
- Lessons in problem solving skills taught to students to help resolve conflicts peacefully (Recommended grades K - 12).
Peer Mediation
- Peers trained to help other peers resolve conflicts. Training is required before implementation. (Recommended grades 3 - 12).
Coping With Life
Suicide prevention program that teaches student how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide and other destructive behaviors presented to health classes by counselors.

Second Step - Research based violence prevention program (Implemented in selected elementary schools)."

Hello?!! There was someone PAID over $60,000 to PREVENT BULLYING, VIOLENCE AND SUICIDE at Dunaire? What happened?

Cerebration said...

Someone needs to see if the bullies were sent to any of these programs after the choking incident - or at any time --

POINTS (Providing Optional Intervention Needed To Succeed) Intervention program for students who violate certain policies related to discipline and violence. Students are referred by local administrator or student relations. Classes are held on a scheduled Saturday, and students must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

E-POINTS Skill-based intervention program for Elementary grade 3-5 students who violate certain policies related to discipline and violence. A parent or guardian must accompany student to the session.

Cerebration said...

Prevention & Intervention Statements:

"Vision: Students will make decisions that will enable them to become productive, responsible citizens, free from the negative impact of drugs, violence, and other destructive behaviors. The knowledge, skills, and opportunities that students need will be acquired through collaborative working relationships among school, home, and community.
Mission: To provide prevention/intervention programs and services which create a positive educational climate that promotes academic, behavioral, and social success.
Goal: To increase protective factors that promote personal and academic success by reducing risk factors associated with school failure, drug use, violence, and negative peer influence."

For additional information, please contact:

Jennifer Errion
Assistant Director
Phone: 678.676.1820
East Campus
DeKalb County School System
5829 Memorial Drive
Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083
(678) 676-1820
(678) 676-1828 Fax

Cerebration said...

So basically, as I piece this together, I find that we have this enormous bureaucracy called "Prevention/Intervention" paying out the following salaries -

Jennifer Errion - $106,182 plus $2517.73 expenses.

PLUS 52 others totaling over $2,600,000 in salaries- plus $28,000 in expenses - not to mention bene's and pensions.

In essence, their claim to fame however, is the program implemented by the ADL. So - why not get rid of half these folks and just employ the ADL on a contract? They seem MUCH more effective.

Open+Transparent said...

"Jennifer Errion - $106,182 plus $2517.73 expenses.
PLUS 52 others totaling over $2,600,000 in salaries- plus $28,000 in expenses - not to mention bene's and pensions."

One of your best posts ever, Cere. Brilliant.

A) Jennifer completely and utterly failed at her job when it came to Jaheem.

B) Crawford Lewis screams aboit the lack of funding from the state, but the system's enrollment is shrinking, and we are paying F-ING $2.6 million for Bulls#$% programs like this that don't work.

Cere's right: If you are going to have a worthwhile anti-bullying program, contract it out to a group like the well-respected ADL.

Instead, after three plus decades in DCSS, Crawford Lewis has helped build an immovable bureaucracy. $2.6 million for an ineffective program and a deceased middle school student.

When it comes to funding for DCSS Crawford Lewis has no credibility. The massive bloat accomplishes nothing except for it sticking a high hard one to taxpayers. Jaheem is gone, despite $2.6 million a year.

We will never forget you Jaheem.

Anonymous said...

The "No Place for Hate" program is an ADL program. Bill Nigut indicated in his interview on CNN, that they were working with this school, that this school was making progress and that he was surprised at this situation.

To blame Jennifer Erion for Jaheem's suicide is illogical and just plain wrong.

Cerebration said...

I don't think anyone blamed her for his suicide - we're just saying that there's an awful lot of people on the payroll who are supposed to be looking out for these things - and basically, no one helped this family. Again - the disconnect. Was it the principal's job to refer the family to the proper people? Why didn't the "bullies" get sent to one of these programs we are paying over $2 million in salaries to implement? Did this "Prevention/Intervention" specialist at the school who earns over $60k ever meet with this family? We are not blaming individuals - but you have to admit - the "system" failed. And we are paying an awful lot for the "system".

In addition - regarding the ADL - they have worked with over 80 of our schools. In fact, their No Place to Hate poster hangs in hundreds of hallways. But the program requires Follow UP and Implementation and regular discussions. It's sort of like saying we're "Premier" when we're not. Doing one training and hanging a poster will not fix what is going on with violence in our schools.

"In 2007, DCSS implemented the system-wide “No Place for Hate” initiative in an effort to reduce the incidence of bullying and create climates of respect and inclusion in all DeKalb elementary, middle and high schools."

"Schools became ‘No Place for Hate’ campuses by completing the following activities:

Forming a committee to oversee anti-bias activities in their school

Signing a “Resolution for Respect” (middle and high school) or “No Place for Hate Promise” (elementary schools)

Choosing and completing, within one year, four activities that celebrate diversity and promote respect

Contacting the ADL to arrange official certification and reception of a banner to commemorate the milestone

The ceremony marked the completion of the second year of the Anti-Defamation League’s successful partnership with DeKalb County School System in implementing the program that further promotes unity and harmonious school environments conducive for learning and social growth."

Cerebration said...

Again, just saying we're "Premier" doesn't mean we are.

And just saying somewhere is "No Place to Hate" doesn't mean that it is.

You can't just make these statements and then go about your business as if the problems are solved. (We did the program - so it's all good now.) It requires daily, constant one-on-one attention. It's hard work and if you don't want to do the hard work that goes with the $60k job, then don't apply for the job.

Anonymous said...

How do we know that this program has not been successful in other schools? How do we know that bullying has not been reduced in other schools? We just assume that because there is an issue with Dunaire that it is an issue county-wide - I don't think it's far to make that assumption without facts.

Cerebration said...

True, we can't make assumptions, however, we've certainly heard many, many stories right here on this blog from parents whose children have been bullied and the principal has done little to nothing to help.

Also, I would really like to know if Jaheem's mother - or any parent in DCSS - has been referred to one of these programs because your child has been bullied or otherwise harmed.

Ella told us the story of her experience - she was permanently harmed by a student - and she left Lakeside because of it and because of the lack of protection there.

Shayna shared the story of her son being bullied at Shamrock - and nothing was done.

I've shared my story about the bully who harmed many children and a couple of teachers and he ended up getting private schooling - paid for by the school system.

Read the AJC blogs on the subject. There are many, many parents reporting there about bullying - or actual acts of violence against their children.

If our leaders want to take "credit" for any progresses made on the subject, then they must also freely admit where there is failure. And in DCSS we have many, many instances of failure on this subject. And that's not an assumption.

Once you have an incident to report about your child, please come back to this blog and tell me a good story about how it was all resolved with counseling and intervention programs. I'd love to hear a success story!

Cerebration said...

ps - this isn't a courtroom. We don't need facts or beyond reasonable doubt. I think we can all make the logical deduction that these stories are not random, isolated instances. Behind each story brought to light, there are certainly several more unreported here.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, cere, I'm not willing to assume bullying is an "epidemic" that is not being addressed by DCSS, based on internet blogs. I'll wait for the facts before my words could possibly ruin someone's reputation. If that is going to be tolerated or encouraged on this blog, then I feel I need to find a more constructive way to try and make a difference in DCSS.

Dekalbparent said...

My child is attending an anti-bullying presentation at her high school today. They have been told that ALL the DCSS schools are having one. Is this true?

It is exam time, and she will be missing valuable review for a high-stakes test because of it. This is an exit test for a program she is in (not an EOCT or GHSGT), she cannot repeat the course or the test, and her score will affect what sort of diploma she can get. I am generally opposed to students being pulled out of class for programs, and this bothers me. I wish teachers could have opted their classes out if they were doing something critical...

Cerebration said...

Your choice Dunwoody Mom. I completely understand. I don't like to talk about this ugliness either, believe me.

Cerebration said...

Visit the DCSS webpage related to safety/bullying, etc.

Open+Transparent said...

Dunwoody Mom posts and all I hear is blah, blah, blah.

Talk to parents and teachers from DCSS Midddle Schools all over the system, and you'll then realize bullying is alive and well in DCSS Middle Schools.

Some principals are on top of it, some are afraid to contact Central Office, and some are in denial.

Good question: How do we know these programs are working? DCSS has many programs that have no measures, no metrics, to prove success. Crawford loves programs and more programs to justify Central Office bloat, but there is no way to measure effectiveness.

And when it comes to Ms. Errion, a mom begging for help six or seven times, especially when her son had been choked to uncoinsciousness, and having the child be despondent enough to take her own life, then hell yeah, I'm going to question her reputation and competency.

Cerebration said...

I disagree - I'm not questioning her competency - I'm questioning the disconnect between schools and admin. Why are these programs not being followed through? Is the staff too busy - too apathetic or too afraid to admit that their school has "issues"... Do they not realize that these initiatives require continuous work after the facilitators leave the building? Is there no clear set of plans, directives, checks and balances?

Problems can never, ever be fixed, or even addressed if we are not honest that they exist in the first place and can feel free to seek help in implementing programs if they appear not to be working. Seems to me that there is too much of an "us" and "them" mentality between the school staffs and the administrative offices. Teamwork, freedom from fear and intimidation is what is needed here.

Why did the $60,000 prevention/intervention specialist not intervene? Why did one of the $60k+ counselors or $80k assistant principals not intervene? The woman asked for help - why did she not get any?

And if anyone says, oh, she should have been a better mom and helped him herself I will delete your comment - and I never do that.

Cerebration said...

This is an interesting article about the investigation from "Atlanta Unfiltered" online. Seems Dr. Lewis is pretty much asking the same questions we are --

April 27 -- DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis today promised a thorough and transparent investigation to see how the system handled bullying complaints that led to the suicide of a Dunaire Elementary student.

Although the system's investigation is continuing, Lewis said the mother of Jaheem Herrera, 11, clearly had visited Dunaire to complain about bullies harassing her son.

"If she came one time, that should have been sufficient enough for us to respond appropriately and put the protocols in place," he said.

Lewis said he wants to know how the system responded to Jaheem's mother, Masika Bermudez: "Did we address the issue as soon as it came to our attention?" DeKalb schools' Office of Internal Affairs, headed by state Sen. Ron Ramsey, will look into the incident..
I'm not thrilled, however, to see that Ron Ramsey and Gwen Keyes Fleming are the people in charge of finding answers. They are both very tight with Dr. Lewis.

I would hope that the GBI or some outside agency would take this on.

Kim Gokce said...

Fyi - Wsb radio is reporting Ms Bermudez will be a guest on Oprah tomorrow.

No Duh said...

Bullying has been around ever since there were more than two people on the planet. Doesn't make it right, doesn't make it acceptable.

As Jaheem's case emphasizes, there is no "generic" bullying solution. The same bullies who tormented Jaheem probably had other victims.

Unfortunately, Jaheem was in a VERY fragile mental state. Keep in mind he had recently experienced at least three of the majors stressors psychologists say lead to depression:
1) A move from St. Croix
2) Death of a beloved Grandmother, and Grandfather moved back to St. Croix
3) Change in job (school being his job)

In addition, he recently had an Uncle found dead on a front porch (in ATL or St. Croix, I don't know). He lived in a two-bedroom apartment with three or four other siblings, his mother and her boyfriend. This would suggest financial strains (kids feel these, too).

His mother noticed subtle changes in his behavior. Not wanting to eat, not sleeping well, then finally not wanting to go school. She is not a psychologist, so she can't be blamed for not "doing anything." I'm sure the parents of every suicide victim(young and old) wishes they would have listened a little longer and harder, spent more time with their child, better battled the child's demons.

Jaheem's suicide is extremely tragic. And the hopelessness he must have felt brings me to tears. But, who is to say Jaheem wouldn't have reacted differently to his bullies had all these other life factors not been in place? Perhaps the bullies were the last straw -- not the only straw.

The internal investigation will determine what the administrators and Jaheem's teachers did or did not do from a DCSS policy perspective -- but it will never determine what caused Jaheem to take his life. Only Jaheem could provide us with that.

No Duh said...

So, let's stop looking for blood.

Let's empower our bystanders! They are the key. And, at one time or another, all of our children will be bystanders.

Bullying will NEVER be stopped. I believe it is inherent in the human experience -- a power struggle, an expression of fear, a testing of one's abilities. It is not always physical.

And, unfortunately, many bullies breed bullies.

Let's empower our children to stand between a victim and a bully. When was the last time the parent of a bystander showed up in the principal's office to seek action? We must show our children how to be active in a bullying situation. How to protect a victim. How to "disarm" a bully (verbally, not physically). How to stand tall if others call them a snitch.

Because we are human and have build a sociey, there will always be victims and bullies.

But, bystanders are the KEY.

Kim Gokce said...

Amen, No Duh. Just a little extra courage all around ... like fear breeds fear, I believe courage breeds courage.

Cerebration said...

I'd like to remind you all of the point made by Jeff Dess, Cobb's intervention specialist in his radio interview. He said that bullying is taunting, and a fine line crossed after teasing. However, physical assault is assault - not bullying. Those boys choked Jaheem to a point on unconsciousness - that is far beyond bullying - that is a very serious assault. These are some very bad boys and I can't wait to hear how the school system dealt with them after learning about the choking incident.

To listen to the podcast of the Jeff Dess Interview on "Parenting my Teen" - go here

Anonymous said...

Post of the Day award to No Duh! Well said....

No Duh said...

Well, I guess Oprah handled today's show as "gracefully" as could be expected. She could have accomplished the same thing without the actual mothers there on the stage, but it's t.v., so it's expected. At least, she didn't let them get into the finger pointing.

They finally got around to the idea of empowering by-standers toward the end of the show. Wish that had been a more prevalent theme of the show.

Gotta applaud the courage of the young man (13 years old) who agreed to detail his years of bullying on national television.

Trying to get to a way to identify when your child is being victimized was fascinating -- particularly for the slightly older kids, those in their young teens. The classic "symptoms" of being bullied (sudden sulleness, retreat from family and friends, etc) are also classic growing pains. I'm not looking forward to sorting out our kids' emotions as they hit that age!