Teachers and administrators confronting the issue of four bullied students who died by their own hands must get involved to end bullying, an attorney for grieving families said Monday.
Some of the student deaths followed bullying that was "incessant, it was constant, and the teachers and the administrators for whatever reason took a hands-off, laissez-faire approach and didn't get involved and stop this at its inception," Ken Myers said on NBC's "Today" show.
Families of victims told the NBC show there is a frightening pattern of bullying-related suicides in the district.
"They were little terrorists," Janis Mohat, whose son Eric shot himself in 2007, said on "Today." "They flicked his ear, they pushed him into lockers, they called him gay, fag. The bullies went up to him and said, 'Why don't you go home and shoot yourself? It's not like anyone would care.'"
The Associated Press reported in detail Friday about the deaths of four Mentor High School students between 2006 and 2008. Three were suicides, one an overdose of antidepressants. All four students had been bullied. The district would not comment for the story.
Mentor Superintendent Jacqueline Hoynes said in a statement posted on the district's website over the weekend that the strategy to combat bullying includes having elementary school students pledge to stand up to bullies and report them to adults.
"Our anti-bullying programs have been in place before the state mandated anti-bullying programs and policies," the statement said.
Anti-bullying committees were set up in each school building to identify the causes and deal with potential victims, bystanders and adults, the statement said.
"Throughout the schools, the seriousness of bullying is highlighted in class meetings, rules-reviews, parent nights, motivational speakers, and in visible reminders up and down the hallways," the statement said.
Myers said the district had seemed to take a hands-off approach to bullying.
"They can have assemblies and all sorts of lessons that they teach the kids, but probably the most important part is what the teachers and administrators are doing when they see this sort of thing happening," Myers said.
Two families are suing the suburban Cleveland district, claiming their children were bullied to death and the school did nothing to stop it.
Hoynes said in the statement she had been advised by the school attorney to remain silent on the lawsuits.
"But, I want to reassure the Mentor students, families, and staff we will continue to address the mental health needs of our students and anti-bullying initiatives in our schools," her statement said.