DeKalb vows ‘transparent’ probe of bullying response
DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis today promised a thorough and transparent investigation to see how the system handled bullying complaints that led to the suicide of a Dunaire Elementary student.
Although the system’s investigation is continuing, Lewis said the mother of Jaheem Herrera, 11, clearly had visited Dunaire to complain about bullies harassing her son.
“If she came one time, that should have been sufficient enough for us to respond appropriately and put the protocols in place,” he said.
Lewis said he wants to know how the system responded to Jaheem’s mother, Masika Bermudez: “Did we address the issue as soon as it came to our attention?” DeKalb schools’ Office of Internal Affairs, headed by state Sen. Ron Ramsey, will look into the incident.
Jaheem, whose family moved to DeKalb in August from the Virgin Islands, hanged himself in a bedroom closet April 16 after enduring months of harassment and taunts at school. His mother has said she complained to school officials several times but got no meaningful response.
A parent of a Henderson Middle School student hijacked Lewis’ 10 a.m. news convference today with complaints about the system’s failure to address three years of bullying of his daughter. Lewis directed a deputy superintendent and other officials to meet with the man today.
The system is also asking a national expert on school safety to return to DeKalb to review policies and practices. Lewis said he wants to “make sure every administrator, every teacher, every faculty member is getting the retraining they need to insure we are doing everything we can possibly do.”
The superintendent said the system will also cooperate with an inquiry by the office of DeKalb District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming. “We want to be totally transparent here,” he said.
And Lewis said he is directing teachers this week to address the incident in their classrooms, to “take some time and not just smooth over the problem and really talk about it.”
The superintendent also cautioned against a rush to judgment before the system’s investigation is completed.
“This is not an opportunity to point fingers,” he said. “We have lost a child.”
Here’s a heart-wrenching story on Jaheem’s last day by the AJC’s Mark Davis.