Putting Education Reform To The Test

How A Florida School Told Sixth Graders About A Classmate’s Suicide

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Sheri Leitch with her son Austin Beaucage, 16, hold up a pictures of their son and brother Shayne Ijames, 13 who committed suicide on May 2, 2012.

When a sixth grader at Southport Middle School hung himself at his Port St. Lucie home, his school made the announcement to some students the next morning.

A crisis intervention team went to every class 13-year-old Shayne Ijames attended to tell sixth graders their classmate had committed suicide.

His mom, Sheri Leitch, is outraged.

“They should have waited a couple of days and really thought about how they were going to sit the children down and talk to them about it,” Leitch said.

“At least say he passed away. But to tell them that I think was awful. This was life-altering for all of these children.”

Janice Karst with Port St. Lucie schools says the district handles crisis situations differently depending on the ages of students, they type of incident and the time of day.

The family suspects Shayne committed suicide in part because he was being bullied at school. (You can listen to our full story on Shayne and his older brother Austin here — Their experiences with bullying ended very differently.)

“In this case, since it happened overnight, the crisis team from the district office went to the school and met with the school leadership team and the teachers of that particular grade level team of which Shayne was a student,” Karst said.

“They decided that the psychologists would, along with the teachers, release the basic information to the students in their classrooms who knew Shayne.”

The school didn’t tell students Shayne had hung himself — just that he had committed suicide.

“All they wanted to know was how he did it… They’re curious and they want to know and they can’t even understand why.”

– Sheri Leitch, Shayne’s mom

That’s when Shayne’s mom got calls and Facebook messages from Shayne’s friends and classmates.

“All they wanted to know was how he did it,” Leitch said. “And of course all the rumors were going around, they thought he did it at school, they thought he did it at the park.

“They’re curious and they want to know and they can’t even understand why,” she said.

Leitch says Shayne’s best friend had to call his mom to get him out of school.

“Because he couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t believe it,” Leitch said. “I want to know why they made the announcement to these students in this way.”

Southport Middle School officials would not comment on whether they thought it was appropriate to tell students about Shayne’s suicide during the school day.

The district says no students went to the school psychologists after they announced Shayne’s death.

 “The students who wanted to come talk to them could at that time, later that day, or even the next day,” Karst said.

The Family Suspects Bullying 

The day after Shayne died, his parents say a text message came in on Shayne’s cell phone from an 8th grader at the school.

According to his parents, the text message said “happy funeral.”

The family says Shayne’s friends have told them a group of 8th graders would tease Shayne about having long blonde hair — calling him gay and threatening him on the school bus.

Southport Middle officials say they have no reports of Shayne being bullied at school or on the school bus. And the district says they have no evidence to support Shayne was bullied.

The school didn’t announce Shayne’s death to the whole school. Just the students in his class.

“And the sixth graders weren’t even the ones bullying him,” his mom said. “It was the 8th graders.”


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