The mother of Carl Hoover-Walker, the 11-year-old Massachusetts boy who hung himself after homophobic abuse from bullies, has pleaded with Congress to do more to tackle the problem.
Sirdeaner Walker, addressing members of the House Education Committee yesterday, said: “What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?
“That question haunts me to this day, and I will probably never know the answer. What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly in school.”
Walker found Carl dead when she returned home from a church service in April.
She said he had been bullied at the New Leadership Charter School for more than six months, with other students calling him gay, a ‘fag’ and making fun of his clothes.
However, the school blamed the incidents on “immaturity” and Carl, who did not identify as gay, was too scared to reveal who the perpetrators were, she said.
Addressing Congress, she continued: “I engaged with the guidance counsellor at Carl’s school.
“The guidance counsellor met with Carl once a week starting in November until his death. She would come up with a grid for his teachers, and his teachers would sign in ‘one’ if he behaved or ‘zero’ if he didn’t behave. What I found was, it was sort of like the victim, which was Carl, he became the problem. It was like it was Carl’s problem.
“I did everything that a parent is supposed to,” Walker said. “I choose a ‘good’ school; I joined the PTO; I went to every parent-teacher conference; I called the school regularly and brought the bullying problem to the staff’s attention. And the school did not act. The teachers did not know how to respond.”
She added: “School bullying is a national crisis and we need a national solution to deal with it. Teachers, administrators and other school personnel need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school. Congress can make sure they have that guidance and support by making anti-bullying policies mandatory at all of our nation’s schools.”
Walker is now working with GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to help pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which will fund programmes to deal with homophobic bullying.
“My son was only 11,” she said. “He didn’t indentify as gay or as straight or anything like that. He was a child. Those kids at his school called him those names because they were probably the most hurtful things they could think to say. And they hit their mark”