We CAN prevent student suicide

Recently, the Washington Post covered the story of eight year old Gabriel Taye. Taye was a third grade student in Ohio who killed himself due to bullying at his school. According to school officials, they did not know the extent of the bullying. When Taye and his parents brought any issues of bullying or student disagreement to their attention they addressed it. The problem is that their communication to the family was not as free flowing. According to the article, Carson Elementary School administrators did not keep them in the loop with all of the incidents happening between Gabriel and other boys at school. As a result, Gabriel’s parents continued to put him in a school situation that was clearly causing him distress.

The truth is that this story is sad. Gabriel could have been any child in any one of our classroom. While this case works its way through the court systems there is one thing that stands out..Carson Elementary administrators and teachers could have done more to communicate with Gabriel’s family. I know. Teachers are busy and do not see all encounters between all students at all times. That however is not an appropriate excuse. Schools are responsible for keeping children safe while they are in the building and on school grounds. If school officials were aware that Gabriel had an issue with other boys in his grade, they should have taken more steps to keep not only him, but all students safe. In this instance, the day before he killed himself, Gabriel was allegedly beaten in a school bathroom. He lay in the bathroom for several minutes kicked and hit by peers before an administrator discovered him. According to that administrator, Gabriel said that he had fainted. Video footage showed that he had been hit.

Many times over the course of our work in education, we become numb to the children in our care.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for them. I am suggesting that we become so desensitized to student conflict, family need, and classroom dynamics that we can miss when a child is truly in distress. My hope is that Gabriel’s story helps to pull us out of that lethargy. If his administrators even after seeing him lying on the bathroom floor had began to have staff supervise the restrooms, had reviewed the video footage considering that a student was lying on the ground in full view of a camera, and had let his parents know that he was struggling, Gabriel may still be alive today. Instead he was helped off of the ground and sent to the nurse no questions or camera review needed. Not only was Gabriel failed here but so was his family.

The other issue at play here is the information we give parents about school choice. Gabriel was the only child of a nurse and an engineer.

Even with those impressive backgrounds my guess is that his family had no idea of how to determine if an environment was a good fit for their son and what to do if it wasn’t.

It is our job as educators to reach out to parents and let them know that we are invested in their child’s success. Hopefully that means keeping them at our schools but even if it doesn’t, we owe it to them to help them find a place where their child can be their best selves. I find that in our country we are torn between two moments in education. There is the “stiff upper lip everyone goes through it toughen up” school of education thought and then there is the “everyone needs to be seen heard and comfortable even if it is virtually impossible” school of thought. Somewhere between the two is what should have happened for Gabriel. Let’s not get so caught up in enrollment numbers, test scores, and curriculum that we miss the reason we show up in our classrooms in the first place. As educators we are daily in service to children and families. It is our job and I would argue our Divine calling to through the lens of our classroom environment and instruction, help children to become who they are meant to be. We can’t take that duty lightly or ignore those we are meant to serve. We never know which lives are at stake. RIP Gabriel.