On September 27th, 2013, Daniel Safrit committed suicide due to the bullying he faced at Charles C. Erwin Middle School (EMS) in Rowan County, North Carolina. Since then, his family and many members of the community are on a mission to stop bullying, hoping that they can change the way students treat one another.
As stated by Allison Latos, from WSOCTV, Daniel’s life changed in the fall when he “complained about bullying, especially name-calling,” and started to see himself as “an ugly person.” A variety of confidential sources in the community told Decoded Parenting that he and his family went to school officials for help, but to no avail. The school allegedly said, “We can’t protect every child.”
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers, making up about 11% of all deaths.
EMS serves under 1,000 kids in grades 6-8. Sources told Decoded Parenting that Daniel was one of several EMS students to commit suicide after struggling with bullying in the past few years. One confidential source, who is part of the judicial system, confirmed to Decoded Parenting that there have been at least three other suicides at EMS in addition to Daniel, two of whom experienced bullying from other students.
The EMS home page has a link to report bullying – is this enough, or are school systems failing kids, when they need help most?
Another Harassment Case at EMS
Daniel wasn’t the only kid at EMS who was enduring bullying behavior – did the school protect the other children?
According to The Courthouse News Service, a mother from Erwin Middle School stated in court that students bullied and sexually assaulted her son while on an overnight field trip under the care of EMS staff, and that the chaperones who learned of the assault did nothing to resolve the issue.
Law enforcement conducted a criminal investigation of the incident, resulting in prosecution, pleas, adjudication, and a 5-day suspension for the boy’s attackers. Ultimately the school allowed the perpetrators to return to school, where the victim was still a student. Did the school respond appropriately, within legal guidelines and their own requirements?
- Chapter 115 C of the North Carolina General Statutes requires the school and its staff to report such incidents immediately, but they did not.
- EMS failed to follow the Board’s policy regarding sexual assault, which is to seek medical attention for the boy and to follow their rules of conduct.
- The school administrators also failed to follow the Board’s anti-bullying strategies.
EMS Assault: What Happened Next?
Kristi Rhone, the principal of EMS at the time the incident took place, has received a promotion to become the executive director of human resources of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
The mother and her child are seeking compensation and an injunction that will protect her son for the rest of the time he stays in the Rowan-Salisbury school system. She is suing the school board, the chaperones, and the four attackers for sexual assault and battery, negligence, and emotional distress. The mother of the victim reportedly wants the school to adopt enforceable rules to insure that the boy and other students would not be victims of bullying or other forms of harassment or discrimination while at school.
EMS School Profile
The North Carolina’s Teacher Working Conditions Initiative is a statewide survey of all teachers to assess teaching conditions at the school, district, and state level. It is an opportunity for teachers to provide input on teaching conditions at their school.
Decoded Parenting looked at the 2010 survey for Rowan-Salisbury schools in general; the statistics indicate that 27% of teachers did not think students follow rules of conduct, 33% thought that administrators did not consistently enforce rules for conduct, and 6% felt that the school environment was unsafe.
At Erwin Middle School, however, the teachers’ assessments were worse. 37% of teachers at EMS in 2010 felt that students do not follow rules of conduct, 61% think that school administrators do not consistently enforce rules for student conduct, and 11% feel that the school environment is unsafe.
In 2012, the situation deteriorated further: 60% of teachers at EMS in 2012 felt that students did not follow rules of conduct, 69% felt that administrators did not consistently enforce rules for student conduct, and 18% felt that the school environment was unsafe.
Bullying: What Will Help?
Since Daniel Safrit’s death, a local group formed a special task force to help fight against bullying. The task force leader is Elizabeth Bailey, a concerned mother and community member, and the group includes Educational Consultant/Motivational Speaker Eric Trail, a teacher, another parent, and a child therapist. According to Bailey, the task force continues to grow and does everything possible to spread the word against bullying.
Decoded Parenting asked Elizabeth Bailey whether she and the task force had come up with any ideas to stop bullying; she says there is a whole list of actions the community can take to reduce or eliminate bullying.
“On this list are watchdog groups … parents and members within the community to volunteer their time to be in these groups. This group is separate than the school system and is a sounding board for students, parents and faculty for bullying issues. … keeps track of the bullying reports and makes sure that the individual administration of that school follows policies and rules and enforces conduct rules. Also there needs to be a group of students in each school to create a anti-bullying council…similar in play to the student council. These students are there to talk to other students who have problems and be a sounding board for students. These students will deal with issues between students to help be an avenue of prevention of bullying…and will report to the watchdog group in their school. Teachers and volunteers must be present in the halls, cafeteria and lunch room at all times. When students are changing classes, all teachers must be standing outside their doors monitoring the halls. With school busses, it is unrealistic to expect one adult to not only drive the massive vehicle, but to also pay attention to the road, other drivers and make stops….and then also to govern the children…So there needs to be another adult on the school bus to do nothing but to monitor children. You can use PTA volunteers and parent volunteers to ride in the mornings and then someone else to ride in the evenings. When it comes to school bus rules they need to be short and to the point. The punishment needs to be serious as well.”
While these ideas have promise, the school board has yet to approve them. Currently, the task force is reportedly having difficulties arranging a time to meet with a representative from the board.
In addition to the task force, there have been new members on the board that appear to have bullying on their minds as well. A confidential source who knows the new superintendent, Lynne Moody, told Decoded Parenting of Moody’s frustration with how the school board was handling things.
Also on the School Board is Charles Hughes, who is a firm believer in punishing bullying. When Decoded Parenting asked for suggestions to deal with the situation, Hughes said he would like to enforce an alternative classes program where disruptive students study together in a classroom with a teacher who is “trained in disruptive behavior and backed up by one or more behavior specialists.” He believes that by doing this, the “stress on the remaining 99% of students who want to learn or do not have disabilities that hamper their learning would be minimal.”
Mr. Hughes has also recently sent emails to the state legislature to make sure that there are legal statutes against bullying and other cyberbullying issues.
Bullying: Community Involvement Counts
The task force is gathering people in the community for a massive anti-bullying community rally aimed at prevention, education, and awareness. The rally takes place on December 14th from 10 am to 4 pm in Rowan County. It is their hope that the community will come together and unite under the same cause – one in which children can go to a safe school, where people treat each other as humans, and to stop the silence on bullying.
In addition to this massive rally, Local Hiphop artist Brian Capa Young wrote a song in memory of Daniel Safrit to spread the word against bullying.
Editor’s Note: Decoded Parenting repeatedly attempted to contact EMS but school officials could not be reached for comment.© Copyright 2013 Thu Anh Le, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting