Florida Today: Schools must keep prevention a top priority

Stop the bullying

Schools must keep prevention a top priority

BY LISA RIVERO • GUEST COLUMNIST • APRIL 17, 2009 florida today

On April 6, another family’s worst nightmare came true.

Sirdeaner Walker went upstairs to look for her son in their Sprinfield, Mass., home. What she found is every mother’s horror. Her beautiful son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, 11, was dead. He had committed suicide by hanging himself with an extension cord.Carl was a typical 11-year-old. He played football and was an active member of his community. He was full of promise to contribute positively to this world. What led up to his premature death was the relentless bullying he had been experiencing at school.

He was teased daily by accusations of being gay for the way he dressed and was threatened with physical harm by classmates. Sadly, this is the fourth suicide of a middle-school-aged child this year linked to bullying.

Today, Carl would have turned 12. Ironically, it’s the same day that thousands of students across the country are participating in The National Day of Silence. This is the 13th year that students will be remaining silent throughout their school day to bring attention to anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender name calling, bullying and harassment in schools.

It is important to realize that Carl, like many other students bullied for this reason, did not identify as being gay.

According to a 2005 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the three top reasons students report their peers being harassed is actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, with the top reason being a student’s physical appearance.

There are many other reasons students are bullied at school, such as disability, religion, race, sex and socioeconomic status.

No child deserves to be bullied or harassed at school for any reason. How many more parents have to lose a child to suicide due to schools not addressing this problem seriously enough?

Carl’s mother, like many parents whose children are being bullied, contacted the school and pleaded for some intervention.

In Cape Coral in 2005, Debbie Johnston lost her son, Jeffrey, to suicide as a result of being tormented at school. Debbie, who was also a teacher, pleaded for some real action to be taken when her son was being bullied.

For Jeffrey, this action came in June 2008, when Gov. Charlie Christ signed Florida’s Anti-Bullying Law, called the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up For All Students Act. This law makes it very clear that bullying and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.

It is my hope that whoever is chosen as the new Brevard Public Schools superintendent will become familiar with the specifics of this law and will guarantee that every school understands, implements and adheres to it.

Bullying prevention must remain a top priority if we intend to provide the best possible education and future for Brevard’s youth.

When students are not and do not feel safe at school, they cannot learn. More importantly, as in tragic cases like Carl’s and Jeffrey’s, it can be a matter of life and death.

Lisa Rivero is president and safe school coordinator for Brevard Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.


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