by: Peter Daut Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - An investigation into bullying complaints at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools shows the district does not keep track of alleged bullying incidents, saying the term is “too broad.”
At least five times a day, Eric Gibson watches a video of his 12-year-old son, Alex. Each time he sees it, he asks himself the same painful questions.
“It’s like, ‘What did I miss? What did I do? What didn’t I do?’ It’s just daily torture,” he said.
In February, Gibson opened his son’s bedroom door and found Alex had hanged himself. He said there was not a note or any indication something was wrong.
“He seemed to be well-adjusted and happy. I mean, he’d come home every day, go straight to his homework. I didn’t have to tell him to do his homework. He was doing quite well in school and got As and Bs,”Gibson said.
After his son’s suicide, Gibson discovered the Carmel Middle School seventh grader was routinely bullied.
He said several students knew about the problem and even heard Alex talk about killing himself. But no one said anything.
“That’s the hardest thing,” Gibson said. “That so many people could have helped.”
Kiasia Ellis was one of Alex’s friends at school and said she never spoke up since she also struggles with bullies and thoughts of suicide.
“I was trying to cut myself before because I didn’t want to be bullied no more,” the 14-year-old said.
Ellis’ mother is trying to get her daughter help and said she’s complained to the school more than a dozen times about bullies.
So far, nothing has been done, she said.
“It’s out of control because I feel like they can do something about it. They have suspicions. They can suspend these bullies,” Nekeiya Staten said.
John Concelman, the head of CMS’ Bullying Prevention Program, said the school district is doing as much as it can.
“I think we can assure the parents that we are doing as much as we can and we are adamant about making sure every student in our school system is safe,” he said.
The district said it has several initiatives to try to prevent bullying, but the problem continues.
In the past few months, two other CMS students committed suicide: Jocelyn Desmond from Hough High School and Katie Wingate from North Mecklenburg High School. Both girls were 17 years old.
Friends of the girls said both were bullied.
“We have to have a proactive approach to this issue and having that proactive approach is something we’re really focused on,” Concelman said.
But Gibson still believes more could have been done to protect his son from bullies. He also blames himself for not being more aware of the problem.
“Don’t take anything at face value. Don’t take ‘Oh, school’s fine’ as an answer. I mean, you’ve got to dig. Ask them about their day. Ask them what they’re going through. Just really communicate,” he said.
Now, all Gibson has left are memories of his little boy and a video.
“It’s destroyed me, you know,” Gibson said. “He was all I had.”
For more information on CMS' bullying prevention program, click here.