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Parents say bullying at California elementary school led to son’s suicide attempt

Jun 05, 2017, 10:25:00

Parents of a Grand Terrace Elementary School third grader say that unaddressed bullying by another student led to their son attempting to commit suicide.

Timothy O’Rourke, 9, pictured with his step-mother, Megan, O’Rourke. Timothy attempted to commit suicide last weekend, according to his parents, after Grand Terrace Elementary and Colton Joint Unified school officials ignored repeated complaints about bullying at the school.

“In kindergarten and first grade, he didn’t have a whole lot of problems,” said Kevin O’Rourke of his son’s classmate and alleged bully. “Most of the issues with this kid started in second grade.”

That year, O’Rourke’s son Timothy had a teacher who kept him separated from the other boy after Timothy had been verbally harassed and taunted. This year, in third grade, though, the other boy repeatedly attacked their son physically, according to the O’Rourkes.

“It’s gotten progressively worse,” said Megan O’Rourke. “It started with verbal harassment, then the kid started pushing him and then eventually, you know, things get more and more severe. And no one wants to do anything about it.”

Colton Joint Unified has no comment on the O’Rourke’s allegations, according to spokeswoman Katie Orloff.And on Friday, the district sent the family a letter, detailing the results of the investigation into their complaints: There was no bullying.

“There are no findings of severe and/or pervasive bullying or harassment, as defined in California Education Code 48900(r),” the letter, dated May 31 and signed by Principal Neera Kohli, reads in part.

Specifically, she wrote, an incident in January the family complained about was either an isolated incident and there was a lack of evidence of “pervasive” bullying. And the May incident, which occurred three days before the family say Timothy attempted to take his own life, was likewise not bullying, according to Kohli, but merely two boys squabbling over PE equipment.

“There is no evidence to indicate that the incident was severe or pervasive and that the student experienced one or more of the following,” she wrote, “substantially detrimental effects to his/her physical or mental health, fear of harm, substantial interference with academic performance, or substantial interference with his/her ability to participate in services or activities provided at school.”

Timothy’s parents strongly disagree.

“First and foremost this was definitely not an ‘isolated event,'” they wrote in a joint email Friday night. “We have spoken with the (assistant principal) and principal on many occasions for over a year about this student harassing our son and they are trying to pretend none of it happened. The assault in January was not an ‘incident of kicking.’ Our son was pushed to the ground and his thigh and genitals were stomped on leaving shoe outline bruises inconsistent with a kick. Last, and most infuriating for us, is how they can call such persistent and violent harassment and assault which led to Timothy trying to end his own life to escape being harassed and assaulted not ‘substantially detrimental [to his] physical and mental health.’?”

According to the O’Rourkes, Assistant Principal Cynthia Lopez-Jimenez told them the other boy would be moved to another class that was on a different recess and lunch schedule than their son. That didn’t end up happening – school officials said there was no room available to transfer Timothy’s classmate to another room, his parents said.

“It’s been a consistent issue since then, with the kid coming up behind Tim, attempting to grab him and slam him onto the ground,” Megan O’Rourke said. “There were at least three or four other instances of this kid trying to grab Tim. … Tim ends up getting in trouble, and not this other kid.”

The O’Rourkes had complained to the school about the bullying to the district back in January, according to emails shared by the family with the Southern California News Group. And on May 18, Timothy filled out incident forms describing two incidents where his classmate attacked him, forms that were then signed by Kohli. According to the paperwork the O’Rourkes filed with the district, they had previously complained to Colton Joint Unified’s school police department.

On May 20, the O’Rourkes told their son to take an afternoon nap, because he had been falling asleep while the family was running errands.

“When my husband opened the door, (Timothy) had a blanket tied around his neck and he was pulling on both sides,” Megan O’Rourke said. “He had petechial bruises all over his cheeks, under his eyes, burst blood vessels in his eyes, his nose was bleeding.”

The O’Rourkes brought Timothy to the Loma Linda Behavioral Medicine Center and he was hospitalized for a week. According to his parents, he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, has been prescribed antidepressants and is being treated by therapists at the hospital.

“Every other time, when there’s been an incident, when he tries to tell a teacher, tries to tell someone what happened, he gets shut down, told he’s a tattletale and he needs to just be quiet and things like that,” Megan O’Rourke said. “So he said he felt like he doesn’t feel like what he says matters to anybody.”

Even before they caught Timothy choking himself with his blanket, the O’Rourkes said his behavior has changed, with the former avid student no longer wanting to go to school or do his homework, and breaking his pencils.

On the next Monday, May 22, the O’Rourkes went to the school to talk to administrators.

“‘Oh, my heart breaks for you,'” Megan O’Rourke said Lopez-Jimenez told them. “Your heart should have broke for him the first time he was assaulted, not because he tried to kill himself over it.”

Timothy won’t be returning to Grand Terrace in the fall.

“He doesn’t want to go back, and we’re not going to make him go back,” Megan O’Rourke said. “Because his safety is at stake.”

Instead, Timothy will be home schooled.

“Timothy is not the only kid being bullied by this kid,” Megan O’Rourke said. “Timothy has told us on multiple, multiple occasions where (the classmate) has bullied other kids, including girls.”

Grand Terrace Elementary educates 693 students, according to the California Department of Education.