Another child has committed suicide after dealing with persistent bullying at school.
Michael Martin, 13, whom his mother described as a good student who loved school, started skipping classes in the months before his suicide.
According to the Lansing State Journal, his mother, Joanna Wohlfert, noticed the change in her son and pleaded with the Lansing School District and Dean Transportation, a private company that operates the bus services for the district for help. She now says that they both failed to help her son, contributing to his death.
Michael died at Sparrow Hospital on Jan. 25, two days after attempting suicide at home.
“I know that some schools are overwhelmed with kids, but if you have a parent that’s reaching out to you, and trying to get help for their child, why wouldn’t you reach back?” the grieving mother told the news site. “Why wouldn’t you do something? He was going through a dark time and nobody cared. Nobody paid attention to him.”
The bullying, which took place on the bus and at school, began in the fall of 2017, according to Wohlfert. The desperately concerned mom began reaching out to school staff in November as Michael’s grades began to drop and his absences began to increase. Attendance records show that Michael missed 33 days of this school year, which is more than six weeks of classes.
District policies mandate that absences of that level “will be investigated by a school district personnel” even if they are verified by a parent or guardian. Michael’s absences were never looked into, Wohlfert claims.
“No one said, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this kid? You haven’t been calling him into school and he hasn’t been here,’” Wohlfert said. “Nothing.”
Micahel never told his mother about the extent of the bullying he faced, but his friends told her that he was routinely teased about his weight, and wearing glasses and braces. He was even attacked and slammed against a wall in the school’s lunchroom this school year.
In a Jan. 8 email, school counselor Jennifer West wrote that she had spoken with Michael “just before break,” but that he “refused to speak with me.”
In another email, Assistant Principal Priscilla Ellis told Wohlfert that she spoke to Michael about the bullying on the bus, but he declined to give her any names.
“I have asked him to stop by the office at the end of the day so that I could go out to his bus to try and figure out who the student(s) may be but that has not happened yet,” Ellis wrote.
Wohlfert believes that Michael may have been worried about the backlash he would face if Ellis went on the bus.
The mother also reached out to Dean Transportation to speak to Michael’s bus driver or a supervisor, leaving three messages that never got a return call.
In a statement, the company told the news site that it “trains drivers on student behavior,” adding that it “is committed to assisting the Lansing School District and Michael’s family in investigating any circumstances relating to any and all claims of student bullying in school or on the school bus.”
In the meantime, the family is still demanding answers, with Michael’s step-father Joe Wohlfert insisting that the school look into how Michael’s situation was handled.
“I think if there were protocols in place that they need to revisit those and audit the system,” Joe Wohlfert said. “If there are not protocols in place they need to put some in place.”
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