Editorial: Not just a school issue

  • Posted: Sunday, October 6, 2013 11:54 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, October 6, 2013 11:55 a.m.

Suicide leaves so many painful questions that families rarely discuss it publicly. But the parents of Daniel Safrit, an 11-year-old who died by suicide just days ago, will not remain silent. By speaking up about bullying and the pressures Daniel felt at school, Jamie Safrit and Scottie Safrit are opening a communitywide dialogue — a dialogue that might save another child’s life.

That important discussion got off track Thursday when relatives of the boy ambushed new superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody and demanded instant solutions. But the tragedy of Daniel’s death has struck a chord in the community — one that empathizes with the Safrits’ pain and wants assurances that our schools and community are doing everything possible to ban bullying.

Daniel entered Erwin Middle School as a sixth-grader this fall. That’s a huge transition for adolescents, moving from the nurturing environment of elementary school to the more demanding rigors of middle school. It’s an anxious time. Daniel’s parents recognized that he was having problems and say they spoke to school officials about it. But the family saw no change. Daniel attempted suicide in September, was hospitalized and treated for depression. But even that was not enough to prevent his death.

What happened at school? What steps did school officials take or not take? How aggressive was the bullying and did anyone witness it? Did classmates stand up for Daniel and make him feel included? What if anything could the adults in Daniel’s life have done to help him have hope and see a better way out? Does Rowan have adequate mental health services? Could an antidepressant have played a role in Daniel’s death?

The answers may be complicated — too complicated to fix with an anti-bullying program. Depression is a dark beast. And bullying is not just a school problem; it’s a societal one.

Several schools in the Rowan-Salisbury system use the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which takes a “whole school” approach; at Erwin, it’s dubbed “Erwin Respects.” That program deserves review.

In decades past, the suicide of an 11-year-old was unthinkable. Now suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens (after accidents and homicides), and the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds is rising. Suicide strikes all socioeconomic groups — people of all income levels, ages, races, faiths and cultures.

Bullying is just one problem contributing to these suicides, but it’s one that is cited with increasing frequency. The community needs to confront the hurtful things children say and do to each other and work together to change that behavior.

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