Letter to the Editor in The Key West Citizen this morning:
Bullying remains a problem at high school
Last year, I wrote a letter to the editor regarding the bullying of my son at Key West High School, and the lack of response by the staff. After the letter was published, a staff member said my son wasn’t bullied, because it was not ongoing. I told her at the time that all it takes is one time for a kid to react by committing suicide.
That [may have] happened this weekend. A young man of 14 shot himself over the weekend due to bullying. This child was a freshman at KWHS. As in my son’s case, the teacher did nothing because he/she was distracted by other students.
Strangely enough, I see no references to [bullying] in this paper. Perhaps because the fine people at KWHS don’t want anyone to know exactly what goes on there. I did warn them this would happen, and unfortunately it has. Maybe the state Board of Education should step in and find out why the staff does not take better care of its students.
As for the parents of this child, you have my sympathy. I cannot imagine what you are going through.
“[may have]“ in the first sentence of the second paragraph of Carol’s letter was added by The Citizen. I published many posts about her son’s case. Carol is a Conch, former US Armed Forces and a lawyer, who was on my email list for a while before I saw her first letter to the editor describing what had happened to her son at Key West High School. Carol told me that her son was presenting suicide ideation after a long period of being harassed for being gay by different groups of students. Carol told me that Key West High School officials told her it was her son’s fault and they did not believe he was gay. I told Carol several times to ask State Attorney Dennis Ward to prosecute the bullies and the school officials.
Email back and forth with Nashville J yesterday:
There are too many people saying the kid was being bullied for it not to be true. The kids KNOW whether the Principal wants to say it was not happening or not. Unless, all his class mates are interviewed and the truth is brought out – it will continue and others will probably be pushed to the same outcome.
Did you write that before, or after, you read my post today? I had just put it onto gmfk.com when I saw I had a new email – yours.
I wrote it after reading your post today.
They can continue to bury their heads in the sand – but it IS a problem with the bullying.
Indeed it is a problem, and I told the school board members and former superintendent about it in no minced words starting in late 2010, after reading the letter to the editor in The Citizen from a mother of a gay boy who was being hazed nearly to suicide at Key West High School. Instead of investigation, they went with the Principal’s version, that would be Amber Bosco, which was to blame the gay boy and to say he made up being gay.
Last year, I told that school board and that superintendent about the big kid stuffing the little kid in the locker for an hour at Coral Shores High School on Key Largo. When I dropped that bomb about their own high school on a Key Largo candidate forum audience last year, at the Murray Nelson Government and Cultural Center, you could have heard a pin drop. When I dropped the same bomb on a Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce candidate forum audience at Boondocks on Ramrod Key, and said the shit who did it should be in the county jail, the audience burst into cheers and applause. The loudest burst came from the large contingency of Sheriff candidate Rick Ramsay, who went on to be elected.
Not that I expect that school board to accept responsibility, but there is no getting around they stuck their hands in the sand, and now Matthew Gelleran’s suicide falls squarely on them. Their names: John Dick, Andy Griffiths, Ron Martin, Robin Smith-Martin, and Duncan Mathewson, who later was replaced by Ed Davidson, and Superintendent Jesus Jara. In God’s court, they stand accused, tried and convicted for not being good stewards of what had been entrusted to them: children’s welfare.
I said hello to Robin Smith-Martin during Matthew’s memorial last night at Key West High School. Robin said hi back, but did not seem happy to see me, based on the look on his face. In his shoes, I would not have wanted to see me there last night, after the warning I had given him to get the bullying/hazing stoppled before something really bad happened.
Functioning adults would have stepped in and gotten it straightened out.
Functioning adults would have met and talked with Matthew’s classmates, one at a time, in private, who were willing to be interviewed.
Boy, am I in a peachy good mood right now.
the below is scratched in the concrete sidewalk outside Old Main at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. One of the few things that I remember from my time there but I always thought it was right on! :
Those who do not hear the music – Think the dancers are mad !
The school board, principals and administration do not hear the music unfortunately – they will one of these days – but it will probably take more deaths and some HUGH lawsuits to get them to pay attention. It does not have to be that way but if they acknowledge there is a problem – then they have to deal with it.
I ain’t convinced they don’t hear the music.
But, if they admit there is a problem, they admit their school district is not nearly as A-rated as they like to paint it.
And, if they admit there is a problem, they think that will get them sued for the problem.
So, best on both counts not to admit there is a problem, and to keep pretending not to hear the music.
Which, you pick, is how functioning prevaricators or functioning criminals operate.
Christine Russell of Key West, and other places far and near, wrote to me yesterday:
RE: I just don’t believe it, rarely at a loss for words, I have been for several days
WHAT WAS IN THE NOTE LEFT BEHIND BY YOUNG MATTHEW?
I still sit in disbelief at what is happening, having learned of this from your blog a couple days ago Sloan. I initially did not believe it, and so I emailed a few people who I knew could tell me if it was true. Both told me sadly it was, and both mentioned the “bullying”.
I still have trouble believing all of this. What the hell is wrong with this world and some people? Do we not have any respect for one another? How are some of these children being raised these days? Can we not work together, instead of trying to crucify each other?
So far everyone who may be afraid a finger will be pointed at them, fearful they might have some accountability in this, is making excuses! Such as ‘There are no official reports of bullying’ ‘Oh kids will tease’ “As to any hazing or bullying,” Porter said, “I am aware of speculation in this regard, but I am not aware of any supporting evidence. We continue to work with the family, with due respect to their privacy, in responding to this tragedy.” Gilleran was a member of the school’s wrestling team and ROTC, and was planning to go out for track, Bosco said. “He was described as very upbeat,” she said of Gilleran, adding he was “an active student.” On the bullying speculation, Archer said: “I have spoken to the family and out of respect to them, we’re trying to get away from discussing what might have been the motivation.The topic of bullying was raised although nothing specific.” She said Gilleran never complained to school staff about bullying or other harassment – the excuses go on and on. Well, you know what you rocket scientists – bullied children may not feel comfortable reporting to you so that you have “supporting evidence”. Their fear would be that they will then be bullied worse, labeled a tattle-tail!
On the radio and in the papers I keep hearing about what a happy “upbeat”, involved, intelligent young man this was – well happy, untroubled children do not put a gun to their head and end their lives. There are students, teachers and many others who know there were serious problems in this child’s life. In some protected way, it is time for them to step up, tell what they know and demand accountability and change.
I know Jim Gilleran from my years of attending TWAB meetings and trying to help facilitate SOMETHING being accomplished at the Truman Waterfront acreage. My vision was for a Saturday Morning Market – a ‘commons’ type atmosphere where community members could come together, share their ideas, socialize, buy bread, flowers, veggies, have breakfast and lunch, sit and listen to some music – and the market would have been AN ECONOMIC ENGINE FORTHE PARK. Too many years and too much time wasted, I gave up. I have much better things to do with my time these days.
There are no proper words to express the sorrow to Jim and his family. The note left behind by Matthew is a very personal thing for his family. The public does not need or have a right to see that note. However, authorities have seen it, we know that. Do we trust them to deal with the information and not brush information and names under the rug? That is a QUESTION not a statement.
I think everyone would agree, there has to be a through investigation. This is Catherine Vogel’s opportunity to shine – step up to the plate, put the politics of KW and the Keys aside, and get to the bottom of this. I hope and would think this is already underway. Parents and citizens have a right to know what is going on in the schools.
I am glad I do not have children in KWHS or probably any other school. If I did they would have been immediately yanked out – probably long before this! – never to return. Home schooling may be difficult. It may not provide some of the social skills and interaction that a good public school would provide. But we need to ask ourselves – just what social ‘skills’ are these kids learning these days! I may be showing my age, but school today is NOTHING like it was in my day – and it has NOT changed for the better. Something has to be done in the Keys and America if their ‘civilization’ is to survive, and I use that term very loosely as it does not seem to be very civilized these days.
You are all in my prayers. Christine
Nothing that happens in the Keys shocks me any more. Nor anywhere else, for that matter. Key West’s claim to being “gay friendly”, “we’re all one human family”, “tolerant”, doesn’t make it so.
I would not send a child of mine to Key West High School. Or to any traditional high school in the Keys. Charter schools are far more appealing. I heard former School Board member Duncan Mathewson sent his kids to charter schools. I think School Board member Robin Smith-Martin’s kids go to the Montessori charter school in Key West.
Here’s what I posted initially re the “suicide note” posted by Matthew to his Facebook friends:
Later yesterday, Tim Gratz wrote to me about Matthew’s last Facebook entry:
“Could not get a picture of it but I had it read to me. Here is all it said: good bye everyone I am going away for good now. matthew gilleran”
I have not heard of another suicide note, but if another one exists and bears on Matthew’s motive, I agree, the authorities should see it.
This morning while I was in Good Food Conspiracy on Big Pine Key, I heard a replay of Bill Becker interviewing Amber Bosco, KWHS Principal, and then Bill interviewed KW Police Chief Donie Lee.
When Bill asked Amber if there had been bullying, she said there is no evidence anywhere of it; then, she said, there might have been some teasing. There seemed to be a smile in her voice; too cute for me, given the outcome. It sounded to me like an admission that there was “teasing”, which Amber and the School District did not view as bullying under its definition of bullying, even thought the outcome was a suicide.
Donnie Lee told Bill Becker that his office had talked with teachers, staff and students, and had not been able to come up with evidence of bullying against Matthew Gelleran. Bullying, according to the School District’s policy.
To be guilty of bullying under the School District’s policy, a student has to be a serial bully, a multiple offender. This also is the Florida Board of Education’s bullying standard. That’s why I wrote in many posts, and said at some candidate forums last year, that the School District’s anti-bullying policy is a joke.
Otherwise, that sh** who stuffed the little kid a locker for an hour at Coral Shores High School, while other kids stood around laughing, would have been expelled, and arrested for assault and put in jail.
Otherwise, the bigots who “teased” the gay kid at Key West High School a few years back [Carol King's son], to the point he was talking about killing himself, about which I wrote a lot, would have been suspended, or perhaps even expelled.
Otherwise, we would not be hearing what is coming out of Amber Bosco’s mouth and out of Superintendent Porter’s mouth. We would be hearing about expulsions of the “teasers”. You do expel kids who drive another kid to kill himself, don’t you?
I heard from a mutual friend, who got it from a KWHS student, that Matthew was in tears over the “teasing” last Friday. When school let out, he went home and posted his Facebook farewell and shot himself.
What you are seeing, Christine, is your elected School Board members, and Mark Porter, Amber Bosco and others as they really are. As I saw them since the fall of 2011. [All except Mark Porter, who came on board last year.]
I told a mutual straight friend of ours earlier today, who is really upset over what is coming out of the School District, that students are terrified of coming forward and telling what they know, because they fear retaliation from the “teasers”, the teachers involved, and Amber Bosco and her staff. I said it may well be that what ends up happening is I publish the contrary view and leave it dangling, so the perps and the School District don’t get away with it altogether.
What could end up happening, beside more suicides ruled “teasing” incidents, is targets of “teasing” start going to school armed and start shooting the perps and the teachers who let the “teasing” happen. Then, they plead self defense, insanity, etc.
I told the audience at Hometown! PAC’s call to candidates last April, that the School District is terminally dysfunctionally insane. Nothing has changed.
Well Sloan, it took me many years to learn this. It is something Brian told me for years and I never wanted to admit at the time – but you can’t change a system that doesn’t want to change. Key West does not want to be anything better than it is. Name me one thing that has changed for the better in KW over the past 15 -25 years. The same dead horses are still being beaten, nothing moves forward. It is hard to believe but there are people, and for reasons I do not care to understand and if I did understand I would worryabout my own sanity or intelligence – but they don’t want things to be any different or better than they are now. SO, if you can’t change the system – it leaves you 2 choices. Leave. Or circumvent the system – don’t playtheir game. Like I said, if I had a kid in that or probably many other school systems – they would be moved immediately to some alternative education system – either a charter school, home schooled, or an on-line educational system. Cruising families do it all the time, but in this sick culture with what is going on now, I would not have children at KWHS. Too many people are lemmings – they will do tomorrow what they did yesterday, without even thinking. Their kids have always attended Monroe County schools and so that is where they are. People need to think outside the box. They need to wake up and look at what is going on around them and make some changes, before they look back with regret and sadly ask ‘why didn’t I…..’ It is all out of control. If you can not change the system, and if you do not like or approve of the system. If you do not get satisfactory answers to questions, and problems which concern you are not being addressed and resolved – just don’t participate in the system. Imagine if 50 – 75% of parents withdrew their children from the Monroe county school system. Maybe something would then change! You can’t just sit back and wait for things to change, you have to take matters into your own hands (in a legalway of course) and do what you need to in order to keep your family safe and see that your children receive not just a good education, but are brought up in a socially responsible way.
Hi again, Christine
Systems are living organisms. As such, they view change as a fatal threat and do all they can to defeat it. Jesus was probably the biggest threat to a system ever. By the time it was all said and done, the system he had offered change had twisted what he was into something the system liked and nothing changed. Christendom today does not know that Jesus. It invented its own version.
I have been outside the box for a long time now. It ain’t really any different than tilting at windmills. I can’t say it’s not interesting, seeing all the creative ways the status quo comes up with to remain the same. I can’t say I don’t get pissed off and want to pull my hair out and go away and never be heard from again. However, I don’t have that option being conscripted and all. So I cope by dealing with what’s next in front of me, as best as I know how, and as corrected the the angels I often am accused of inventing .
From The Key West Citizen yesterday:
Tears and laughter, music and candles, and green and blue clothing were all in abundance Wednesday night, as 200 or so Key West High School students paid their respects to their fallen schoolmate, Matthew Logan Gilleran.
The 14-year-old, 9th-grade honor student died Sunday at a Miami hospital after shooting himself in the head Friday at his Old Town home. Police said Gilleran left a note, but did not divulge its contents.
Members of the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps gave a crisp salute as attendees of the candlelight service passed through the entrance to the high school courtyard.
Caya Cooper, also a 10th-grader, helped organize the event. She stood handing out white candles at the front of the school.
“When I first found out about [what happened], my friend and I were talking about how people were saying really negative things on Facebook, about how the people who bullied Matthew should go and kill themselves,” Cooper said. “We thought, ‘This is so negative.’ That’s why we helped organize this with my other friend, Morgan, from Stand Up Against Bullying. I just hope that this moment brings people closer together at the school, and that people learn to accept each other as one human family. People are always talking about that, but they aren’t acting like it lately.”
Attendees were asked to wear blue and green clothing, the departed teen’s favorite colors.
Following a poignant opening statement by Principal Amber Archer Bosco, the Rev. John Baker, of The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, eulogized Gilleran as a person of worth who never lived to realize his full potential.
“The life of Matthew Gilleran Matters,” Baker said. “He matters to you. He matters to us. And he matters to God.”
The candles were lit, and Morgan Denhart of Stand Up told her classmates never to be afraid to look intolerance in the eye, and to always know that help is available for students being hounded by thoughtless and cruel classmates.
Though Gilleran wasn’t a member of her organization, Natalie Madruga of the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance was on hand nonetheless, to read from Mary Elizabeth Fry’s 1932 poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” and comfort Gilleran’s friends and classmates.
Gilleran’s fellow ROTC member and pal Hector Gomez remembered the “honor, courage, and commitment” the teen displayed in his participation in the program, and how he was able to “abide and share with others” his loyalty.
“He’ll always be in our hearts and minds,” Gomez said.
Sobbing students laughed in spite of themselves as Gilleran’s buddy Johnny Hornyak talked of the boy’s fondness for video games, chocolate milk, and inventing things.
Hornyak remembered fondly a sleepover at Gilleran’s house, where Matthew slept on the couch so his friend would have a real bed to sleep in.
“I found cookies hidden under his pillow,” Hornyak said to laughter from the crowd. “I can respect that. I wouldn’t want someone stealing my cookies, either.
“He was somewhat shy. Not many people got to know him,” Hornyak added. “But he was the most creative kid I knew. If you see someone who’s lonely, or a little depressed, reach out to them.”
Denhart then introduced Evelyn Shield and Kristin Cane, who played a stark, yet emotional acoustic version of Taylor Swift’s “Safe and Sound,” as the candles flickered in the unseasonably hot night.
When Matthew’s older brother, Daniel, then tearfully praised the students for their support, murmurs of encouragement could be heard.
“Thank you for all the love and care you’ve been sending to my family this week,” he said, reminding them of the pending memorial service, from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, at the Key West Sailing Club.
“Matthew was a really caring child,” Daniel Gilleran went on.
“He’d rather keep [his problems] inside and care about the person next to him. I really learned a lot from him. I wish I had learned more.”
Bosco then entreated her students to douse their candles, but never their memory, of a caring boy who loved helping people, doing his schoolwork — and chocolate milk.
“He will always live on,” Bosco said.
Finally, Baker led the students through a short prayer, and the students were left with their thoughts and memories.
“I am very proud of my students,” Bosco said later.
“The program was very student-driven. Different groups came together to do a program that was really something to celebrate. Their ceremony brought comfort to Matthew’s family, and also each other.”
The candlelight vigil was the second such gathering at a Key West High School in less than a month.
The first was a hastily assembled get-together held Dec. 30 at the Key West Collegiate Academy for Principal Adri Stewart, who also took her own life, on Boxing Day.
Matthew Gilleran’s stepmother has asked community members to forgo flowers at Sunday’s celebration of life, in favor of donations to a scholarship fund being set up in the teen’s name at First State Bank.
Citizen Blog comment:
Submitted on Thu, 01/17/2013 – 7:49am by Marie
What beautiful manners this outstanding boy had in the classroom and all over campus. He read a book a day. I admired him so much. Losing his potential will affect our community far into the future. I am praying for his parents, brothers, and friends.
After John Baker’s closing remarks, I walked over to him and asked if he was Catholic? He said, St. Mary’s. I asked because I recognized some of the Rites he had used, which reminded me of Rites I had learned in the Episcopal Church when I was growing up.
Priest: “The Lord be with you.”
Congregants: “And also with you.”
He introduced himself as John Baker. I introduced myself. I asked if he had known Matthew? John said yes. I said I had not. Tragic, I said. John agreed. We spoke as men, not as priests.
From there, I wandered among grieving kids, holding each other. In my thoughts, I started making a prayer for the left-behinds, the grievers. Tears were in my eyes. I wandered around praying in my thoughts, that they would be helped with their loss, and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, and from their grief they would be launched into their destinies. I closed the prayer in the name of All That Is Holy … in the name of Jesus of Nazareth … the Christ … Then, I left.
As I drove back to Little Torch Key, Matthew came into my thoughts. He was Catholic. Thankfully, John Baker didn’t say it, he seemed way beyond it; but homosexuality is a grave sin in the Catholic Church, and suicide is a sin without reprieve. I told Matthew in my thoughts to let God help the grievers and for him to get on with what is now his to do.
I told Sandy Downs later that Matthew had been airlifted to Miami, where he had lingered. I said he was better off now, than if he had recovered. For he would have been under constant surveillance for the rest of his life, ever watched by his family, friends. He would have been in prison.
Sandy said she once had known a fellow who shot himself in the nose with a pistol, and the bullet went through his head and did not strike anything vital and came out the back of his neck. I asked how his life went after that? She said he rode a motorcycle well over 100 miles per hour and crashed and killed himself.
Maybe Matthew was not okay with being gay. Maybe he knew he would not be able to survive in a world where people would never leave him alone for being gay. Maybe he was affected by the Catholic aversion to homosexuality. Maybe he felt he was doomed in any event. I don’t know, I didn’t know him. But I wonder. And I wonder how I would cope in this society if I were gay. I wonder how I would cope with myself if I were gay. Not very well, I don’t imagine.
I hope people learn from Matthew’s life and death, but the way things are going, it doesn’t look to me that the School District learned anything. Irony, learning is supposed to be what schools are all about. If the left-behinds, the grievers, wish to truly honor Matthew and his life, they will come forward and tell what really happened to Matthew at Key West High School last Friday. If they do not believe me, they should ask themselves, “What would Matthew and Jesus have me do?”