Originally Published: August 16, 2017 6:04 a.m.
The tragic suicide of an 8-year-old boy in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the wrongful death lawsuit blaming a “treacherous school environment” is another dreadful tale encompassing the devastating effects of bullying.
Filed by the parents of Gabriel Taye, the lawsuit alleges school officials not only allowed bullying, but took steps to cover it up. The lawsuit, seeking damages to be determined at trial, names officials at Carson Elementary School and the Cincinnati Public School District as defendants.
Attorneys said the mother was unaware her son was bullied until lawyers saw a Cincinnati police detective’s email describing the scene outside a boys’ bathroom where attorneys say Gabriel was knocked unconscious after he was pushed into a wall, all of which was caught on a school surveillance video.
Two days later, Gabriel hanged himself at home using a necktie.
According to an Associated Press report earlier this month, attorney Jennifer Branch said Cornelia Reynolds’ words were, “if I had only known.”
When I first read this story, my heart shattered into a million pieces. It’s one of those situations as a parent where you wonder, and you can’t help but think, “What if this was my child?”
I have to be honest. For me, bullying was something I lived with every day growing up in Milwaukee. Whether it was a private Christian elementary school, or a public middle school in the downtown area, I was not immune to bullying.
Those of you who have met me may say, “Well, didn’t your physical size help deter the bullies?” If anything, it made me a bigger target. I’m a big teddy bear! And those bullies knew it.
Despite my stature, I wasn’t looking for a fight, and pretty much did everything I could to avoid one. “Kill ’em with kindness,” I was told. Sometimes, especially when it was two or three bullies at once, that didn’t matter.
As a young student, I remember the consequences of being a “rat” were far worse than dealing with bullying myself. And if I were to stand up for myself and unload on some bully with my fist? Well, that had consequences, too.
But, do you want to know what’s worse than four classmates mercilessly kicking me in the shins while sitting at my desk in third grade until I cried and ran out of the room?
The teacher doing squat about it.
Remember, “bullying” was not a national topic of conversation until about five, maybe 10 years ago. Bullying has been going on for generations.
In my own experience, a few teachers I had growing up turned the other cheek, looked the other way and if and when there was a day they casually felt like dealing with it, a trip to the principal’s office lasted all of an hour and the bully was right back in class.
Today, society can sometimes be critical of parents who feel the school shares the responsibility of dealing with bullies. The fact is, raising children takes a village, and teachers play an important role.
Yes, it is the parents’ job to teach their children why bullying is wrong. It’s also the parents’ job to teach their child how to deal with bullying head on, and who to inform when it does happen, whether it happens to them or a classmate.
Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
It’s important that teachers continue to join in on the fight against bullying, because it happens every day in the classroom, the halls, on the playground and in the lunch room.
Luckily today, most, if not all school districts have action plans and procedures for dealing with bullying. And many have zero-tolerance policies. Parents are also more and more well-informed about bullying, which is a credit to the hard work of local school administrations and their staff.
This tragic story of the 8-year-old boy in Cincinnati weighs heavily on my mind. We have a long way to go as a society in dealing with bullies, but at least we are heading in the right direction.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is associate sports editor and a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him at email@example.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.