Another Child Lost to Bullying

Despite pleas to an apathetic school administration, 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera took his life last month when he couldn't take the homophobic bullying anymore. Now his mother is fighting to prevent this from happening yet again.

BY William McGuinness

May 07 2009 12:00 AM ET

On Tuesday, Rep. Linda Sánchez of California introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act in the House of Representatives. It will require schools that receive funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to implement an antibullying policy that protects students from harassment and covers sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics.

GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard said her organization's research shows that schools with enumerated antibullying policies that specifically include sexual orientation see improvement over schools that take more general approaches.

"Bullying is not some kind of expectable rite of passage," Byard said. "Bullying is a public health problem. [It] is a situation in which the bully and the target need our help and need support in dealing with the consequences of the bullying or -- for the bully -- with the circumstances that lead them to behave that way."

She added that legislation is not the whole answer -- results hinge on "effective implementation, which requires concerted and prolonged effort."

Griggs said the DeKalb County, Ga., school system failed Herrera because it could not implement the antibullying policies already in place.

He said DeKalb County has a "very good" antibullying policy, but the school failed to implement to it and failed to respond to Bermudez's repeated complaints. She complained to the school seven times, but administrators did nothing even after Herrera was choked until he was unconscious in a bathroom one day, the attorney said. Police even told the school to monitor the situation more closely, he said, but little was done.

"From the investigation that we conducted, they failed every single way possible to protect these children," Griggs said.

Byard said responding to sexual bullying is a touchy subject for school employees throughout the country. She said LGBT students have reported that when staff members receive sexual bullying complaints, 80 percent do little or nothing about it.

"It's the fear of not knowing how to [help]," she said. "They may not recognize the severity of what they're witnessing. They may worry that they won't be backed up by the school administration and if they do take action, they'll be some kind of controversy about homosexuality at schools. So you have a kind of language that is a pronounced element of the problem, yet it's the kind of language that teachers are less likely to actually deal with. That's a real problem."

Tags: Youth

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