CINCINNATI – a comprehensive proposal to settle the case of bullying that led to the death of an 8-year-old boy, can provide a plan to combat bullying in schools.
Ross Ellis, founder of the non-profit advocacy group STOMP Out Bullying, said that in order for any plan to work, the school district – in this case Cincinnati public schools, CPS – must be involved. Historically, she said, school districts “wash bullying under the rug.”
Gabriel Tay, a third-grader, was repeatedly bullied at school before taking his own life in 2017. The City Council for Education will consider an agreement Monday that will pay the family $ 3 million and make changes in the fight against bullying in the school district. .
The family’s lawyer, civil rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein, said that to honor Gabriel, the family would use the village to protect current and future CPS students. A monument to Gabriel will be erected at Carson School, the elementary school he attended.
“We will make sure that these reforms take root and put an end to harassment throughout the CPS system,” Gerhardstein said.
On January 24, 2017, a student pushed Gabriel into a wall of the boys’ restroom, knocking Gabriel unconscious for seven minutes. In a school video of the attack, other students stepped over to Gabriel. Former assistant director Jeffrey Mackenzie found Gabriel, but did not call 911. The boy complained of stomach pains and spent several hours at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati.
He stayed home from school the next day, and on January 26, two other students harassed Gabriel in Carson’s bathroom and stole his water bottle. That day he committed suicide in his bedroom in his mother’s apartment.
“When a child is bullied, unconscious on the bathroom floor, while the children make fun of him and kick him and no one gets help, it says something,” Ellis said. “Every state has harassment legislation, but if it is not enforced (by schools), it is of no use.”
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The Cincinnati plan will identify harassment by tracking repeat offenders, repeat victims and repeat locations. Efforts will be made to intervene in the students involved in bullying so that it does not continue. School nurses will be empowered to report suspected cases of bullying.
The agreement includes training and supervision staff and includes two years of oversight of its anti-bullying plan.
Julie Pouch, who is leading a project at Loyola University School of Law in Chicago that seeks to prevent bullying in schools across the country, praised Cincinnati schools for agreeing to two years of supervision and commitment to change.
Pautsch said many school districts do not track bullying. Investing in technology and incident tracking staff is a step in the right direction, Pouch said.
“Not that we can completely prevent (harassment),” she said. “But that’s the way the school reacts and how they intervene before it gets so serious that you can’t come back and then the kids get hurt.”
Ellis said she would like to take a closer look at the programs that Cincinnati schools are considering. She said she trusts schools to educate children, but not so much when it comes to bullying.
“I hate to sound so cynical, but we’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Ellis told USA TODAY. “Let’s see if in two years the schools really take this seriously.”
Ellis said there is a need for close, repeated interaction between teachers trained to work with bullies and their goals. It takes time and patience.
The federal lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleges that students’ aggressive behavior toward each other was “rampant” at school – and that school officials knew about it but covered it up instead of warning parents.
Five months ago, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In its opinion, the court said that the alleged actions of the nurse and the administrators of the Carson school were “rude and obviously reckless”.
They “ultimately prevented (Gabriel’s) parents from fully understanding (his) horrific experience in Carson Elementary until it was too late,” the court said.
In the settlement, district and school officials deny the allegations “and claim that they have not committed any violations.”
Lawyer Aaron Herzig, a partner at Taft Law Firm, who represented the school district in the case, said the agreement was in everyone’s interest.
“The defendants firmly believe that neither the CPS, nor its staff, nor the school nurse are responsible for the tragic death of Gabriel Taye,” Herzig said. “CPS is committed to eliminating bullying in schools and continuing to improve and enhance bullying incident reporting, management and training processes.”
Bacon reports from Arlington, Virginia. Contributions: Madeleine Mitchell, Cincinnati Equivaire
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