It's said to be the most painful thing anyone can experience in their lifetime: losing a child. And, when that child decides to take their own life...the pain can cut deeper with hundreds of questions that may never be answered.
"We have a lot of what if's and why's that as parents you're going to have," says Gerald Merriweather, who got the news of the death of his son, Jerad, while at work. His older son found Jerad dead in the bathroom.
In the heartbreaking days after Jerad's death, Gerald came up with one possible reason Jerad would make such a devestating decision. "Do you believe your son was bullied," we asked. "Yes," he answered.
Merriweather believes his son was bullied at Grovetown Middle School. Jerad's friends created an anti-bullying foundation in his name.
We took the allegations to Grovetown Middle School's principal, Tom Smallwood.
"So, you're not aware if Jerad was, or was not, bullied this year?" we asked Smallwood. "I haven't had anything reported to me this year that Jerad has been bullied," he answered. "In years past?" we asked. "Well, that's confidential," Smallwood answered.
Even though Smallwood wouldn't answer the question, he added that any time they have a report of bullying, they investigate it thouroughly.
Jillian Benfield, reporting: "Columbia County says they have a zero tolerance for bullying..."
"Zero is a bunch of bull. They have a high tolerance for it," says Grovetown parent Tracy Renew, who contacted WJBF News Channel 6 after hearing of Jerad Merriweather's death. She says her daughter has been bullied in the Columbia County School system for 6 years...even being slapped on the school bus. "As parents we've got to put a stop to this," she says.
Renew is trying to get parents togeher to meet with school board officials about what she calls a lack of consequences. We took some of her concerns to Columbia County Board of Education member Regina Buccafusco.
"How much of a role does the principal play when handling bullying situations?" we asked. "Very key," Buccafusco answered.
Buccafusco says the principal plays the main role in disciplining. Back in 2011, the State of Georgia required all schools to have a bullying policy. Columbia County has adopted the state's reccommended policy, which includes guidelines for discipline. But, it's the principal that determines the severity of bullying and therefore the level of discipline the bullier will face. That can range from: changing the student's seat in a classrom to expulsion.
Dr. Sandra Carraway will take over as Columbia County's School Superintendent July 1st. I asked her if she will change the way the school system combats bullying. "I think what we're doing now is everything that we can do," she said.
Carraway says students need to be more vigilant in reporting bullying and parents need to speak up if they're not happy with the school's actions.
Renew says she's already done that...but her daughter's situation has gotten no better. "The bullying issue has gotten so bad, that it's causing these children to feel like they need to take their own life," she says.
In a Facebook post, Jerad said school counselors were aware of his depression. But was Jerad bullied? We may never know, but his parents and others hope that his story will help students and teachers learn the importance of talking everyday...about what happens inside your child's school.
Dr. Carraway says, if you are not happy how a bullying situation is being handled at your child's school, it is best to go up the chain of command. Start with the teacher, principal, and if you're not satisfied....take it to the school board.
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