Saturday, May 13, 2017

An Eight-Year Old Boy Committed Suicide...by Dr. Michael Flanagan

An eight-year old boy named Gabriel Tye committed suicide on January 26th. Eight years old. As tragic as that fact is the events surrounding his death are almost worse.


School surveillance video shows the boy had been knocked unconscious by other students in a locker room, and laid there unattended for almost eight minutes. In that time almost a dozen other students, including the children responsible for the assault, stood around. Some even appearing to laugh at and kick him while he lay motionless.


There was a teacher right outside the door, but none of the student witnesses alerted him or called for help. When the school staff eventually arrived and discovered the boy, they apparently had no idea what happened. A school nurse assisted the child, but, they did not inform his parent of his being found unconscious, saying instead that he had fainted.


The child was taken by his mother to the emergency room later that night because he was vomiting. The school did not inform his mother that the child was found unconscious, and the subsequent symptoms associated with a concussion. This assault happened right next to the gym, in the locker room. All physical education teachers and school administrators are aware of concussion protocols. Apparently this mother was not made aware of the seriousness of a concussion. She kept the boy home from school the next day, but allowed him to return the following day.


And that is how this story might have ended, another child who was the victim of bullying in our schools. Except for the fact that this child hung himself that night.


A local Cincinnati newspaper requested that the surveillance camera footage of the incident be released, once they learned of its existence. That footage was published last Thursday.


When teachers or administrators come across an incident in school, whether it is a child lying unconscious, a fight, or simple vandalism, we investigate the circumstances. When there is video surveillance, we view the tapes. And when we find something, especially an assault of this magnitude, we report it. We notify the proper authorities, and we pursue disciplinary actions and counseling, in addition to rendering medical care.


We do not lie to the parent and tell her that her son fainted. Children who have been bullied or assaulted need counseling, as do the students who are participating in the bullying and violent behavior. This child was failed by the school system. Can you imagine what he must have felt like when he returned to school? Not only the physical effects of the concussion, but the taunting of the children who witnessed his assault and continued to bully him. There was no disciplinary action, no counseling, no notification of the parents. That little boy had to walk back into that building, carrying all of that psychological trauma, and he could not handle it alone.


And that should make everyone of us who calls themselves an educator sick to our souls.


At best, this is gross incompetence and ignorance by the school administration. At worst it is negligence, cowardice and complicity in the assault. There are laws and policies in Ohio, and every other state, which specify the actions school officials must take to ensure the safety of all children. This incident should have been investigated, medical attention should have been rendered, and all parents involved should have been notified. Period.


As of the writing of this article it is unknown what disciplinary or legal measures have been taken against both the children involved in the assault, and the clear negligence of the school staff. However, the coroner has reopened the investigation and the police are again involved.


When I worked as a dean of discipline, I had the unfortunate responsibility to be involved with many incidents where children had been rendered unconscious. Some from illness or accident, and some from assault. Seeing children incapacitated in any manner is disturbing, but knowing they got that way though an act of violence is another level entirely.  


I have vivid memories of many incidents over my career. One in particular stands out. It was of a 12-year-old child who had been kicked unconscious as a result of bullying. When I got to the scene, I immediately called for assistance and began to render aid. I also identified any witnesses to the incident, demanded their ID cards, and quickly found out who kicked the child. As I began to try to revive the child, I saw that he had one of those little skateboard toys that the kids flip in his hand. He was just a 12-year-old child playing with a toy, and was bullied and kicked unconscious by other kids. Kids that were supposed to be his friends.


I had to have two very difficult conversations that day, notifying each of the students’ parents about the circumstances of the incident. There is no easy way of telling a parent that their child was just beaten unconscious while at school. There is also no joy in informing the parent of the aggressor that their child had assaulted a boy so badly that he had been knocked unconscious. Or, that the school was suspending that child.


No, those are not easy conversations to have, but as educators it is paramount that we notify parents of all the facts concerning any incident involving their children. Not just because it is our legal responsibility, but because we care about children and their well being.


Most schools have anti-bullying protocols. Parents are encouraged to come to school meetings to become informed about the seriousness of bullying. The irony is that when asked if their children have ever been bullied, many hands go up. But, when they are asked if their children have ever participated in bullying, very few hands are ever raised. We as parents must both support the victims of bullying, and address our own children when they are the bullies.


And what of those who are suffering daily torment, who may not get physically assaulted, but are emotionally battered every day? We all need to be more conscious of our students who are struggling with the effects of bullying. Sometimes we become so focused on curriculum that we forget there is a child behind those rubrics.


The school to prison pipeline does not just happen when kids graduate. There is a culture in many schools that can resemble prisons. Kindness is considered weakness. Telling adults is akin to snitching. In schools, when you are targeted by bullies for any reason, you are eternally a target. You are trapped with those same kids until you leave the school. Unfortunately our disciplinary system is rigged against the victims of bullying. It is often easier to remove the victims from the school than it is to stop or remove the bullies.

We must change the culture of our schools. Bullying can no longer be allowed to fester. We need to step up and give our children a safe place to learn, and a supportive environment where students would never even consider walking past an unconscious classmate, because they themselves fear the threat of being bullied for snitching. Instead of focusing on standardized test prep, we must instill courage and character into our students. No one should ever have to write the words “An eight year old boy committed suicide…”. #StopBullying

7 comments:

  1. Bettie Hallen, great grandmother, former educatorMay 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM

    This is one of the most heartbreaking incidents ever! Especially so, because it was the result of bullying in a public school in the United States. Man's inhumanity to Man beginning with our youth.
    #StopBullying!

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  2. "Heartbreaking" is the key word by Bettie Hallen. Thank you for the above article BadassTeacherAssociation. I too am a grandmother, former teacher and now Marriage Family Counselor. I am wondering if human child "hall monitors" are in use today, as well as surveillance cameras? Human "hall monitor" were effective in my grade school days. The student "hall monitor" was a student of strength and character. Perhaps this human factor would help inspire noble human qualities in student peers. It appears camera surveillance is too easy to forget, then tragedy happens. Who supports the parent and siblings after a tragedy such as this?

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    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I also was wondering where any supervision was, that is why I assumed this was the rest room in a locker room.

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  3. This is my second attempt to contribute to this topic. Thenk you to the BadAssTeacherAssociation for the above article about eight year old Gabriel. "Heartbreaking" is the key word by Bettie Hallen as written above. I too am a grandmother,former teacher and now licensed California Marriage Family Therapist. I am wondering if "hall monitors" are in use today? In my grade school days, it was a privilege for a student to be assigned the hall monitor of your class. Requirements were that you were a student with strength of character and leadership. Perhaps returning to this method would help inspire noble human qualities in student peers. It appears camera surveillance is easy forget, then tragedy happens. Who supports the parent(s) and siblings after a tragedy such as this? Who supports the other students who care so that they can learn to respond in such a situation?

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    1. All good questions. This can never be allowed to happen again.

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  4. Unfortunately, this is just not a "school issue". This is a community and society issue that must be worked on as a collaboration in order to better our students. A child of sound body & mind will be ready & willing to learn.

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