CINCINNATI — On Wednesday, more than two years after the suicide of 8-year-old Carson Elementary student Gabriel Taye, Cincinnati Public Schools leaders unveiled a new plan to address bullying within the district.
Attorney Jennifer Branch, who has represented Taye’s family in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against CPS since shortly after his January 2017 suicide, called the step encouraging but overdue.
“The school district should have taken care of this problem years ago, before Gabe died,” she said.
The family’s lawsuit accused CPS of failing to notify the Taye’s mother of multiple bullying incidents, including one recorded on a surveillance camera, that Branch claims contributed to his suicide. It also asserted the existence of widespread and similarly unreported bullying throughout Carson Elementary.
Online CPS data shows Carson has ranked first among local elementary schools in the number of substantiated bullying reports every semester since fall 2017, when a report listed 13 such incidents. That number had dropped to nine by fall 2018, tying Carson for first with the Academy of World Languages.
Whether nine incidents qualify as a widespread problem in a school that reported 607 enrolled students in 2017 is debatable, but bullying prevention experts point out many instances of bullying go unreported.
Regardless, “I find that very sad,” Branch said of the numbers. “That Carson Elementary, after Gabe’s suicide and death and this litigation bringing light about the problems at Carson, that the bullying rates are still so high in the district.”
(Total enrollment at CPS was 34,816 for the 2017-18 school year. The district-wide number of substantiated bullying cases in the same year came to 292. indicating — if each reported incident involved a separate victim — fewer than 1% of students had reported being bullied.)
CPS’s plan to address bullying, both reported and unreported, involves a multi-pronged approach to preventing bad behavior and helping victims, according to assistant superintendent Susan Bunte. Its five focuses are:
- Expanding peer-to-peer counseling.
- Introducing an app that allows anonymous reporting while still allowing the district to correspond with tipsters.
- Changing the way bullies are punished, making the response less punitive and more “restorative.”
- Creating maps of schools that show where exactly, bullying is happening.
- Providing empathetic listening training for all staff members Aug. 14.
“I applaud that,” Branch said. “I think that’s what the school has needed for a very long time.”
The Taye family’s suit, which seeks unspecified damages from the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education, will continue with a pretrial conference July 17.