Jason Lamberth had no idea why his 13-year-old daughter killed herself until he read her farewell note.
“Please tell my school that I killed myself, so that the next time (name withheld) wants to call somebody (expletives), maybe they won’t,” said Lamberth, reading the note aloud to the Clark County School Board on Thursday while omitting sensitive details.
“She kept it hidden,” said Lamberth, acknowledging that officials at Henderson’s White Middle School may not have known his daughter Hailee was being bullied. It wasn’t reported.
But there’s no question now, he said. Bullying and Hailee’s death are intertwined.
Still, district officials haven’t followed state laws that prohibit school bullying and mandate that schools investigate any suspected cases of bullying, contended the grieving father. The district hasn’t even answered any of the father’s questions, Lamberth claimed at the meeting, detailing his struggle to just get an audience with district leaders since Hailee’s Dec. 12 suicide.
“I reached out to you, Mr. Skorkowsky, and tried to get a meeting with you,” Lamberth told Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky on Thursday. But Lamberth couldn’t get a meeting with anyone at the district until Feb. 6, almost two months after his daughter’s death.
Four district officials were supposed to attend the meeting, but only White Principal Andrea Katona and Academic Manager Andre Long came, he said. The principal told Lamberth that she didn’t conduct an investigation and the school had no reason to believe Hailee had been bullied, he said.
How could that be when Las Vegas police investigated at the Henderson school for two days, finding Hailee was bullied by a boy and two girls the day she took her life, asked Lamberth, referring to a police report. Police told Lamberth they informed Principal Katona of the student named in Hailee’s letter.
Las Vegas police confirmed the investigation – performed by its abuse and neglect unit — but said Friday that the case was closed with no arrests, and the report won’t be released at this time.
Katona declined to comment Friday, according to district spokeswoman Melinda Malone, who issued a statement Friday on behalf of the district, calling Hailee’s death a “terrible tragedy and she is mourned by her school and the entire CCSD community.” Malone also confirmed that “several of our administrators have met with, spoken to or emailed with Mr. Lamberth.”
There’s no denying bullying played a part in why Hailee killed herself, Lamberth asserted.
“I know this to be fact because Hailee left a farewell note to me explaining such. Hailee said the kids at school called her fat and ugly,” said Lamberth, who argued that the principal ignored her duties under state law to “conduct investigations” of any suspected violations of this law.
The state law mandates the principal begin an investigation within 24 hours of learning about a suspected bullying incident. The principal must also provide written notice to parents or legal guardians of all students involved in the investigation. The investigation must be concluded within 10 days. In a confirmed instance of bullying, recommendations must be made for disciplinary actions or other measures as described in district policy.
The district’s discipline policy “prohibits” bullying and allows principals to suspend or expel students “considered a danger to persons or property.” To do so, the disciplined student must be informed of the reason and given a chance to explain his/her conduct. A hearing must then be held no more than three days after the students is removed.
However, the student named in Hailee’s letter is still at school, Lamberth said. Due to student privacy laws, the district cannot reveal disciplinary action, if any, taken against specific children.
The named student had previously been in trouble twice this school year for bullying, “a fact that the principal and Mr. Long did not refute,” Lamberth said. If the district followed its own policies and state law, the bully wouldn’t have been in school to bully Hailee, he said.
“We fully cooperated with the Metro investigation into her (Hailee’s) death and we have reviewed all actions taken by the school,” said Malone on Friday, adding that the district is also reviewing Lamberth’s suggestions for policy changes.”
Lamberth said the district’s bullying policies are “outdated, ineffective and insufficient” but most of all are “not being upheld.” The district hasn’t even told Lamberth what has been done, if anything, in the wake of his daughter’s death, he said.
Lamberth was promised answers to his many questions asked in the Feb. 6 meeting. But he hasn’t heard a word from the district, which is why he made a public plea Thursday.
“It’s been exactly three weeks since that meeting. No phone call. No text message. No emails,” said Lamberth. “It has been 77 days since my daughter Hailee was bullied to death, and still there are no proposed changes to the CCSD policies. How many more children must suffer before action is taken?”
Malone said district officials are planning to meet with Lamberth again at an undetermined date, adding that the “district is always willing to listen to concerns or suggestions from our parents and community.”
Lamberth isn’t stopping there. He meets next week with Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, D-Henderson, to discuss possible changes to state law. Police told him charges wouldn’t be filed because it’s not a criminal offense to bully under state law, he said.
“Bullying is not a crime. Only a definition (under state law),” Lamberth said.
The Legislature addressed bullying in 2011 but did little more than mandate schools investigate and report all suspecting bullying incidents, including cyber bullying through cellphones and the Internet.
Clark County School District, which has about 315,000 students, suspended or expelled 1,736 students for bullying or intimidation in 2012-13, up from 1,584 in 2011-12. But few bullying incidents result in such stiff penalties, said Brandon Moeller, assistant director of the district’s Equity and Diversity Department. In September 2011, the district also created an online site for anyone to submit a suspected bullying incident. The report is sent to the school principal and district officials.
The district received 1,801 bullying reports from September 2011 to September 2012. Investigations found 67 percent of the complaints to be valid. Middle schools, such as White, accounted for almost as many incidents as elementary schools and high schools combined.
The district isn’t compiling those numbers for 2012-13, said Malone on Friday, referencing a change in state law last year repealing the requirement for each principal to submit reports listing the number of violations to the no-bullying law.
Assemblywoman Spiegel confirmed Friday that she’s meeting with Lamberth. She’s researching what other states have done in the face of so many recent youth suicides related to bullying.
“On the whole, we need to do more as a society to help our children,” Spiegel said.
Lamberth reminded the district Thursday that he’s not going away. He will be back every other week to speak at School Board meetings about his daughter, Hailee Joy Lamberth.
“She was on the honor roll, having earned a grade no lower than an A her entire academic life,” Lamberth said of his daughter pictured in this year’s school photo with thick, black-rimmed glasses sliding partway down her nose and a small smirk across her face. “At the beginning of this school year, Hailee even earned a kindness award for going out of her way to help a student, whom she didn’t know, pick up her books after a bully knocked them to the ground, on purpose.”
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.