A Silent Birthday

Today is the 13th Annual National Day of Silence. On this day, many people refrain from speaking to call attention to anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Today, April 17, 2009, also would have marked the twelfth birthday of Carl Walker-Hoover who tragically took his own life on April 6 after another heart-breaking day of bullying at his school, The New Charter Leadership School in Springfield, Mass.

Carl’s mother, Sirdeaner Walker, said Carl had been unhappy with how he was being treated at school since he began in September. Students were constantly bullying him by saying that he was gay and that he acted like a girl. Sirdeaner said she repeatedly called the school over the last six months to report the harassment that her son was suffering. The school insisted that the harassment was due to the immaturity of students. Carl would not give the names of the bullies for fear of even more harassment as a result of being a “snitch”. A few weeks before Carl took his own life, an incident occurred where he accidentally bumped into a young girl who then repeatedly threatened to kill him. A school mediator made Carl and the girl eat lunch together every day for a week in hopes of reconciling the situation.

The New Charter Leadership School and its president, Henry M. Thomas III, have been under major scrutiny since the tragedy took place. They absolutely have a public relations crisis on their hands. Since the death of Carl, Sirdeaner Walker has insisted that this tragic event could have been stopped. I have to agree with her. I know that the school is not completely at fault for the death of Carl, but they were aware of the problem and turned their heads. When does a school have to step in? Is the immaturity of students an excuse to look the other way while a child suffers? The school mediator took a step in the right direction when he made Carl and his female classmate have lunch, but if the New Charter Leadership School would have responded to all of Sirdeaner Walker’s complaints, the life of young Carl Walker-Hoover may not have been cut so short.

Since the death of Carl, there have been mixed reports as to the school’s response. Carl’s mother said that she received no calls or acknowledgment from the school. She admitted that she heard of the school’s vigil in his honor from a friend. Henry M. Thomas III, the school’s founder and president, said in an interview with The Republican Newsroom that he tried to call her on Tuesday, after Carl’s death and every day after, until Friday when he went to visit her in person. This was a very good step made by Thomas and the New Charter Leadership School.

Carl Walker-Hoover is not the only middle-school child to take his own life due to persistent bullying. Three young boys in the state of Illinois took their lives in the month of February for the same reason. Why are schools not stepping in when parents call in complaints on their child’s behalf? What steps need to be taken in order to ensure that this kind of tragedy not take place?

Schools, public or private, need to get back to the basics of public relations: the managing of relationships between their publics. A school’s publics would be students, parents, faculty, staff, community and news media. If a faculty member of a school was being harassed, there would be some form of complaint that could be filed. When a parent calls to report harassment, the school should be sure to aknowledge what is happening and keep an eye on the situation. The students are a school’s most important public. A school is built to educate students and prepare them for the future; therefore, students should have their complaints investigated. It is also in the best interest of the kids doing the bullying to be repremanded. If a school turns the other way, then how is that educating the bullying children on the simple aspects of life? If the child, like Carl, is too afraid to point the finger and it is the parent that makes the report, then this should also be taken seriously by the school.

What is next for The New Charter Leadership School and other schools whose students fall victim to the loss of young lives due to bullying and harassment? So far, The New Charter Leadership School has announced that they are offering counseling to faculty and students. I believe there should be sessions where trained presenters or speakers talk to the students as a whole about the issue of bullying. This would send a message that the school is attempting to correct the issue that Carl fell victim to. It would also create a much better environment for the students, a school’s main public, to thrive in. The issue of bullying should be addressed just as much as the abuse of drugs, alcohol and the message of safe sex.

The death of Carl Walker-Hoover was undoubtedly a tragedy. Carl cried out for help, and his cries were not heard. Hopefully the loss of his young life and the other lives ended due to bullying will create a better understanding of schools facing this issue. Schools cannot turn the other way anymore. Today, on this Day of Silence, nearly 100,000 people will choose to not speak in honor of lives like Carl’s and to stand up for those currently facing the harassment and bullying he struggled with for six months. Days before today, his twelfth birthday, Carl made a decision that no child should be forced to make. It is up to schools and parents to generate a learning environment in which bullying is not tolerated.

– Dianna Duffy

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Filed under Ethics, Leadership

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