Each month, a new report about a trans teen committing suicide after facing bullying at school emerges nationwide, but a Wisconsin mother's story now shows that the danger of school bullying does not just lie with students.
Jill Grienke shared with local news stations this week that her transgender daughter Karis Ann Ross, 37, a lead special education teacher at Milwaukee German Immersion School, died by suicide in November.
Grienke said it happened over the school's Thanksgiving break, and told reporters her daughter left a note, complaining of being bullied by coworkers for a decade.
"There were people named," Grienke explained to Milwaukee TV station WDJT. "Before her transition, she was being bullied. After her transition, she was being bullied."
Family and friends said Ross had repeatedly brought the situation to her school's principal, but there was no response.
Grienke made her daughter's struggle public this week to demand that Milwaukee Public Schools do better when similar situations arise in the future. She was joined by one of Ross's friends, Madeline Dietrich, who penned an open letter to Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver, to call attention to MPS's alleged "failure to respond" to Ross's claims of bullying, and subsequent attempts to "cover up" the situation, reports WDJT.
Dietrich's letter claimed that the majority of bullying was perpetrated by Ross's three classroom aides, who were tasked with assisting her in teaching special education.
"It had gone on for years," she explained, "but in the weeks leading to the moment Ms. Ross chose to end her life, numerous emails were exchanged between Ms. Ross, school officials and the medical community, all pointing to a crisis which went largely ignored by [school principal] Dr. Brugger, who rather than mediating or intervening in the conflict, chose to play down the situation and avoided any direct involvement with Ms. Ross and her aides."
"Adding insult to injury, MPS made no attempt to contact Ms. Ross' family for nearly two weeks," Dietrich later added. "Dr. Brugger sent flowers and a card, but made no official announcement to MGIS faculty and staff, who only learned of the suicide from Ms. Ross’ uncle when he arrived to collect her personal belongings."
Milwaukee Public Schools officials have not directly commented on Grienke and Dietrich's allegations, with a spokesperson only stating that, "Ms. Ross was a longtime member of the Milwaukee German Immersion School staff whose presence is still missed," notes WDJT.
On Sunday, which would have been Ross's 38th birthday, family and friends gathered to commemorate her life, joined by a few supportive former coworkers. Grienke said it was difficult to think of losing Ross, particularly when she stepped into her daughter's bedroom, which has been kept just the way she left it.
"I'm still not over her death by any means, so it hurts," Grienke reflected. "She was my hero. She was extremely authentic."
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.
Learn more in the WDJT report below.