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Two suicides raise worries about schools showing anti-bullying videos

October 29th, 2013 8:27 am by By Matt Pearce and Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Two suicides raise worries about schools showing anti-bullying videos

MGN online graphic

SPARKS, Nev. — Two students from separate schools
committed suicide within days of each other this month — which is
National Bullying Prevention Month — and both boys apparently had been
bullied. Now, parents are asking questions not just about bullying but
about anti-bullying videos, which both schools aired shortly before the
incidents.

Brad Lewis’ son Jordan, 15, a sophomore at Carterville
High School in Carterville, Ill., killed himself Oct. 17 by shooting
himself in the chest.

Jordan left an affectionate, apologetic note
that, according to Lewis, concluded with: “Bullying has caused me to do
this. Those of you know who you are.”

Lewis criticized
investigators for not pursuing the bullies more aggressively, but he
also turned some of his questions toward his son’s school, which showed
an anti-bullying video to students the day before Jordan killed himself.

“All
I know is they were discussing the bullying, and showing kids bullying,
and at the end of the show they showed pictures of kids that took their
lives,” Lewis said. “When a child or a person is at the end of their
rope, and they don’t think there’s anywhere to go, and they don’t think
anyone’s doing anything about it, and they see something on video, and
they relate.

“You’re dealing with kids. Kids don’t look at the
long-term situation — they look at the short term, they look at the pain
they feel now, how can they end that pain.”

Carterville Unified
School District Superintendent Bob Prusator said he didn’t know which
program had been shown, but he thought it was one that many schools
across the U.S. use. He said the schools’ anti-bullying efforts would
continue to be evaluated.

“It’s part of the ongoing challenges of
public school systems,” Prusator said. “I think every school district in
America would agree, the issue of how we keep kids safe in all aspects
... there’s a lot of different levels. We feel a lot of pressure to keep
our kids safe, and so we’re always evaluating things, but we also need
feedback from people. ... Particularly on social media stuff, we just
don’t know what kids are experiencing.”

Prusator said school
officials had never received reports of Jordan being bullied at school.
He said local law officers were still investigating.

Last week in
Sparks, Nev., 12-year-old Jose Reyes brought a gun to school, shot two
classmates and killed a teacher before killing himself.

Those who
knew Jose said sometimes he would cry and say people were calling him
names. One witness to the shootings recalled Jose saying, “You guys
ruined my life, so I’m going to ruin yours.”

On Oct. 11, the
documentary “Bully” reportedly was shown to all Sparks Middle School
students during their sixth-period classes. The film, students said,
depicted two stories in which bullying drove one student to commit
suicide by hanging and another to bring a gun on a school bus.

Some students and parents say the parallels are disturbing.

“I
don’t understand why that would be shown in the schools,” said Veronica
Rudd, whose daughters are in seventh and eighth grades at Sparks Middle
School.

“They are trying to be very proactive (about bullying),
but I don’t know if it’s coming across to the kids that way. Because at
this age, children can be influenced by many things.”

Washoe
County School District officials did not respond to requests for comment
about the video. Lt. Erick Thomas of the Sparks Police Department said
the film was part of the investigation into the Oct. 21 shootings.

“Detectives are reviewing the video to see if it has any bearing on the investigation,” Thomas said.

Research is mixed on the benefits of bullying prevention programs in schools.

One 2010 scholarly review of existing research estimated that school prevention programs reduced bullying more than 20 percent.

A
different study released by University of Texas-Arlington researchers
came to the opposite conclusion, noting that their data showed that
“students attending schools with bullying prevention programs were more
likely to have experienced peer victimization, compared to those
attending schools without bullying prevention programs.”

The Texas
study cautioned that the programs may not be causing increased bullying
and said more research was necessary to draw conclusions.

The issue presents a significant policy problem for educators.

Bullying
victims are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and suicide is
the third-leading cause of death for teenagers. According to the
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control statistics from 2000
to 2010, 300 to 450 kids ages 12 to 15 killed themselves every year —
about one a day.

Bullying decreases as students get older,
research suggests. But suicide rates rise throughout the teenage years,
peaking in the early 20s.

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(Mason reported from Sparks, and Pearce from Los Angeles.)

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©2013 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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