After suicide, S. O'Brien schools to review bullying allegations

2012-04-17T21:45:00Z 2013-11-14T18:18:06Z After suicide, S. O'Brien schools to review bullying allegationsBy Molly Montag mmontag@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal

PRIMGHAR, Iowa -- In the weeks before his death, Kenneth Weishuhn hid his pain with a smile, family members said.

They knew Kenneth, 14, was harassed at South O'Brien High School after telling people he was gay, but the freshman assured them things were fine, said his mother, Jeannie Chambers.

"When I talked to him, he blew it off," she said, "like it wasn't a big deal."

Chambers said what the family didn't realize -- and what school administrators also say they didn't know -- was the full barrage of hate being directed at Kenneth, who committed suicide Sunday.

There were threatening cell phone calls and voicemails, she said, and harassing comments online.

Officials at South O'Brien schools will evaluate what happened after students get through the initial grief over Kenneth's death, but they do not plan to make any policy changes, said Superintendent Dan Moore.

What they will do, he said, is find out how they can make sure students get the policy's message that bullying isn't acceptable.

"We have all the things in place to deal with it," Moore said. "We just need to continue to educate the kids on what is and what is not acceptable."

Chambers and Kenneth's sister, Kayla Weishuhn, 16, said they think school administrators didn't do enough to protect him from boys who began yelling slurs at him in the hallways late last month.

Teachers began standing in the hallways after someone complained and addressed bullying at a school assembly, Kayla said, but that didn't stop the bullies.

School staff should have had an assembly for parents and students, to make both aware of the issue, Chambers said.

She said she wasn't contacted by the school, and followed her son's request not to reach out to administrators. The harassment died down when the bullies shifted their focus on a pregnant girl and he feared intervention would put the target back on him, she said.

"I didn't contact the school, which I should of, but he was just like, ‘Mom, please don't ... You'll make it worse," Chambers said.

Kayla said some students started posting slurs and hateful messages on an online support group started by one of her friends. Somebody started an online hate page against gay people and sent online invitations to all of Kenneth's friends, she said. Kenneth mistook the invitations as support for the page, Kayla said.

"Someone from our school had called my brother and left him death threats, voicemails, saying that he didn't deserve to live, that God hated him and that they were going to kill him," said Kayla, who listened to one of the messages.

Chambers didn't know the real content of those messages, which Kenneth told her he deleted.

School administrators dealt with the only incident they knew about, Moore said. He did not have details about what happened, but said school staff and counselors spoke with parents and students involved.

"I feel the school did address the issue that they were aware of when it came to their attention," Moore said. "We did address the issue. Obviously, we had no idea that we'd have an end result like this, or what was going on outside of here."

Even if administrators had known about the online comments, he said, they may not have gotten involved unless the conduct carried over into the school building.

O'Brien County Sheriff's Office officials are investigating the death. Chambers said they took his cell phone, reviewed his Facebook account and examined the computer he used at his grandmother's house.

Chambers said she'll leave decisions about criminal charges to the police. She just wants the bullying to stop.

"I just hope that they see what they took from us and I really hope that it touches their heart for them to never, ever want to bully somebody again," she said. "If that's the one thing that comes out of this, that would make me happy."

Punishing bullies with suspension, detention or other consequences isn't enough to address the problem, said Nate Monson, director of Iowa Safe Schools.

School officials also should try to find out what's going on in the lives of the aggressors, who often are dealing with their own problems, and provide additional support for the victim, he said.

"You also need to tie it into some other kind of thing going on," Monson said. "Whether that's counseling for that student who did the bullying as well as that student who was the target of the bullying."

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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