Mother Of Bullied 13-Year-Old Who Died By Suicide Says His School Refused To Help Him
Months of chronic absences and pleas for assistance are said to have gone ignored.
On January 25, 13-year-old Michael Martin died from injuries sustained during an attempted suicide two days earlier. Now Martin's mother, Joanna Wohlfert, is blaming Michigan's Lansing School District for neglecting her pleas for help with incessant bullying she says her son endured both on the school bus and at school, USA Today reports.
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According to Wohlfert, Michael’s issues with bullying began to affect his grades and his desire to attend school.
The 8th grader went from seeing his parents off and happily hopping on the school bus by himself every morning to skipping school as often as he could. Records obtained by the Lansing State Journal show Michael missed nearly six weeks of school this school year, a total of 33 days since November.
Lansing School District policy dictates students are to be investigated if their attendance drastically declines. Wohlfert claims no one ever reached out to her, although she says she did receive automated phone calls regarding her son's excessive absences.
The mother said she struggled to get Michael to tell her about the full extent of the bullying going on at school and only later learned from his friends that students would often tease him about his weight, wearing glasses and having braces. One student reportedly told Wohlfert Michael was even once humiliated during lunchtime in an incident that involved a fellow student slamming him against a wall.
Wohlfert says she continuously reached out to her son's school for help and was ignored for months. In one email she shared dated November 30, she pleaded with Assistant Principal Priscilla Ellis for help finding a solution.
"I have found him home, at least one day a week," she wrote. "I do not want him to get into this sort of pattern and want to put a halt to it now, so any help I can get for him would be appreciated."
Ellis never responded to that email. Wohlfert later visited the school in person and said she was told she'd be contacted shortly about the issue. However, she claims that a follow-up never happened.
“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?” asked Wohlfert following the tragic death of her son. “Why wouldn’t you do something? He was going through a dark time and nobody cared. Nobody paid attention to him.”
Some officials at Michael's school have pushed back against his mother's assessment.
School counselor Jennifer West said she attempted to speak with Michael to find out what was bothering him but claimed he wouldn't tell her.
“Despite my efforts to talk with him, offer him support, etc., he absolutely refused to speak with me or even acknowledge I was speaking to him,” she said.
Ellis sent Wohlfert an email the day of her son's visit with West claiming the 8th grader refused to cooperate with her investigation.
“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,” the assistant principal's email reads.
Wohlfert said she believes Michael wouldn't speak to the two administrators out of fear of retaliation.
The New York Post reports the school district is now under investigation due to the 8th grader's passing, according to a statement released by a Lansing School District spokesperson.
“The Lansing School District is engaged in a comprehensive and on-going investigation and is working closely with the Lansing Police Department,” the statement read. “It is the policy and practice of the district to not comment or share any details pertaining to the investigation while it is on-going.”
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