Bullied Teen Dies by Suicide; Mom Says School's Attitude Was 'Toughen Up'

Bullied Teen Dies by Suicide; Mom Says School's Attitude Was 'Toughen Up'

The mother of a teen who killed herself in April is speaking out against school leadership for its "toughen up" attitude when it came to repeated bullying her daughter faced for being bisexual.

Alyssa Morgan was 12 when she came out to her Pleasant Hill, Iowa, family as bisexual. Her mom, dad, siblings, and grandparents told her, "We love you no matter what," according to Alyssa's mother, Nicole Morgan, in an interview with the Des Moines Register

But Alyssa Morgan had long been facing bullying at her school, Southeast Polk Junior High, said her mother, and appeals to the school for help were ignored. 

On April 3, Nicole Morgan came home to find that her daughter had taken her own life.

In an interview with Des Moines TV station KCCI, Nicole Morgan recalled times when her daughter would come home crying. Her daughter was bullied for being bisexual, she says, while also struggling with depression and self-injury. "When you have other people telling you that you're not worthy of anything, or that being bisexual is wrong or somehow disgusting. ... They're going to take that into thought — that maybe I wasn't right for this world."

Alyssa Morgan loved to draw, take selfies, and play video games, her mother told several media outlets. The seventh-grader kept her "pain well hidden," she says.

Nicole Morgan is critical of school administrators, saying they didn't do enough to address Alyssa Morgan’s bullying. The adminstration's attitude was that bullied kids ought to "toughen up," Morgan's mom recalls. Even now, after Alyssa’s death, Morgan said the school is complacent.

"They don't seem to want to deal with the situation," Morgan told the Register. "To me, it seems like they want to cover it up."

The school district has issued a pair of statements responding to Alyssa Morgan's death, the first expressing "Our deepest sympathy and support go out to the family, as we continue to respond appropriately and thoughtfully to their needs, the needs of our students who have lost a classmate, and the needs of our staff members." 

On April 30, Southeast Polk Community School District Associate Principal Nathan Ballagh emailed a statement to KCCI explaining "over the last four years our students and staff have stepped up our bullying prevention efforts. A lot of our efforts are led by our students who provide us (school officials) insight to what bullying looks like in our school and community and what we can do to help prevent bullying. Our students have really been the driving force and have taken ownership in preventing bullying in our schools."

Tragically, the students at Southeast Polk Junior High and High School are no strangers to losing a classmate by suicide. Just two years ago, gay student A.J. Betts was lost to suicide at age 16. Betts's mother — who also pointed to school officials who she claims did not address the antigay bullying her son faced — contends that Alyssa Morgan is the 15th Southeast Polk student to take their own life in the past 12 years.

"They're trying to cover up this stuff," Betts's mother, Sheryl Moore, told KCCI in April. "It didn't end with AJ. And now that I see that they're trying to cover up their lack of responsibility with this latest suicide, I've decided to speak out. Because nothing's going to be done unless the public knows about what's going on at Southeast Polk."

If you or someone you know are an LGBT young person (ages 24 and younger) struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals needing support can contact the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

Watch the Register's interview with Alyssa Morgan's mother on the following page.

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