In a letter sent to the community Tuesday night, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg expressed his “deepest sympathies” to the family of 9-year-old Jamel Myles.
The boy took his own life last week after reportedly being bullied by his classmates. Over the summer he came out to his mother as gay. He was in fourth grade at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School.
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Superintendent Boasberg wrote that the district is committed to making sure all members of the DPS community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. Parents, educators and fellow students need to lead the way in setting an example, the letter urged.
Leia Pierce, Jamel’s mother, said she found her son’s body in their home on Thursday. She told the New York Times that she had been in frequent contact with school administrators in 2017 because of bullying issues.
“We need to be more loving, more caring, more accepting of each other,” Pierce told the Times. “My heart breaks every second.”
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LGBTQ supporters like Daniel Ramos, who heads the nonprofit One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy center, said he hopes the incident prompts parents, teachers and others to seek out anti-gay bullying resources.
“The message is really for educators to take incidents of bullying seriously and for parents to be having conversations with their children and also with the school to make sure everyone is in communication about what experience young people are having in school,” he told CPR News reporter Jenny Brundin.
Ramos said 9 out of 10 LGBTQ students report verbal harassment in school while 6 in 10 report physical harassment. More than 80 percent of Colorado school districts have an anti-bullying policy compliant with state law — but anti-bullying training for teachers isn’t required.
Ramos said pulling somebody aside in school and saying, “We don’t use language like that,” or “We don’t talk to our peers that way,” can make a significant impact on students.
The district provided counseling services to students and staff following Jamel’s death. CPR News reached out to DPS on Tuesday but the district declined to comment.
“These tragedies have caused deep sadness and reflection throughout our community,” the letter read. “These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large.”
Read Superintendent Tom Boasberg's full email to DPS parents:
Supporting Our Students with Love, Dignity and Respect
Dear DPS Community,
It is with profound sadness that we learned this week of the death of Jamel Myles, a fourth grade student at Shoemaker Elementary School, and the shooting of a teenage DPS student (whose name has not yet been released) near our Mitchell Campus today. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and school communities of these children. These tragedies have caused deep sadness and reflection throughout our community.
These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community -- to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.
We all play a vital role in seeking to prevent our children from trying to take their own lives. DPS teaches the Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum, which focuses on supporting students to identify warning signs of depression or thoughts of suicide and make a report to a trusted adult for support. Our school social workers, psychologists and school nurses are trained in suicide prevention and supports.
Families are encouraged to teach your children to acknowledge if someone has a problem, be caring and tell an adult. Remind your child that there is help available if they or a friend ever feels sad or depressed. You can share with them the phone numbers for both Safe2Tell (877-542-7233) and the National Suicide Hotline (800-273-8255).
If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don't be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk. Instead, it decreases the risk by providing an opportunity for help. DPS has additional resources for families to help prevent student suicide available in this video.
In DPS, we are deeply committed to ensuring that all members of our school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. It is critical that our students receive all the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment. Our policies and practices reflect this commitment to ensuring that our LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) students can pursue their education with dignity and joy -- from training to prevent and stop bullying, to policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity (including use of preferred pronouns and restrooms).
However, we also know that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to ensure that no child is ever bullied or treated with disrespect because of their self-identification. This past spring, I spoke with a group of our LGBTQ+ youth, who told me story after story both of the love and support they had received in our schools, but also of intolerance, meanness and disrespect from fellow students and adults. All of us -- parents, educators, and fellow students -- need to lead the way in setting an example of love, respect and dignity for our LGBTQ+ youth.
We are fortunate in DPS to have strong LGBTQ+ educators, who serve as strong leaders and role models for our students. We are also fortunate to have partnerships to support our LGBTQ+ youth, including One Colorado at the state level and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at the national network. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students.
Thank you for your shared commitment to the health and safety of our youth. As our thoughts are with the teenager in critical condition tonight and we mourn Jamel's passing, let us all come together to celebrate the light that our children bring into the world and ensure that all of their friends and peers throughout our community continue to shine their lights brightly.