Response to our cover story of Sept. 16, "No Way Out," has been overwhelming. Printed here are excerpts from over 20 pages of letters we received. We appreciate readers' responses and hope to keep this dialogue going.

Address all letters to: Editor, The Colorado Springs Independent, 121 E. Pikes Peak Ave., Suite 455, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; fax them to: 577-4107; or e-mail: letters@csindy.com. Please limit letters to 300 words or less in the interest of space limitations. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and length. -- Ed.

A Student responds

This article deeply touched me ... I'm 13, a very hard age in my opinion. When I was in seventh grade, I switched middle schools ... At first, the teasing was minimal. I got called "fat" a lot and "fat whore", "fat bitch," etc. I was used to that, since I've always been heavy. Then, it got really bad. I had no friends, people would "moo" when I walked into class, and I started to feel pretty bad about myself. I started getting threats from popular girls. Then the boys started tripping me in the hallway and calling me a fat ugly bitch. ... Finally, I was so upset I started writing dark poetry and suicide notes. I started dressing in all black, because it made me feel better ... I got dubbed satanic and a devil worshipper. Christian bigots would throw WWJD bracelets at me and tell me I'd rot in hell. ... I decided that I would kill myself. I then discovered that a razor blade was my best friend. ... Before long, a friend told a counselor who called me in his office and called my dad who was shocked and upset. Well, a few months later, thanks to some much needed Zoloft and a great therapist, I was a pretty happy, average teen again in my old school.

I just wanted to say that it's not acceptable for this kind of abuse to go on. Kids need to know that it's NOT all right and that there should be serious consequences for their behavior. I would like to start a support group for depressed and tormented kids. I dream of a day when no kid, or person for that matter, should have to go through and withstand the abuse that I or Kerby went through.

-- KE
Over the Internet

Teachers respond

After Columbine, we all asked ourselves How could his happen? One of my teacher acquaintances aptly commented: We should be surprised it doesn't happen more often -- considering how different kids are treated! (I paraphrase, but that was the gist.)

As much as I try to be aware of my role in modeling acceptance and fair treatment, I need articles like yours to re-remind me of that call.

-- LB
Music teacher, Colorado Springs

You wrote a really good article, researched it well, and I couldn't put it down. I am a teacher in another school district in Colorado Springs and must tell you that you are REALLY missing the point. If you want to really hear horror stories, ask the regular classroom teacher who has tried to do something about the bullies and gang members in his/her school about what has happened to them. Ask the teachers, but they won't give you their names, because they would immediately face a lawsuit if they complained in public.

I started teaching in the '70s and it was very different then. If a child was in trouble in school, he was in trouble at home also. Not so now. ... If it isn't an angry, unruly parent, it is the ACLU, who wants students' rights to outweigh civilized behavior in the classroom.

Teachers have their hands tied. ... If you try to write up a student on a referral, you have to have several pages of previous offenses outlined and documented, have to have made several telephone calls home (which is a sure way of getting fired if you are not a tenured teacher!) to talk to parents who are also so harassed by their child they often don't know what to do, but they think the teacher is responsible for their child's behavior. ...

Write an article about teachers and how their day goes. Go into a school district where gangs rule the hallways and where everyone is afraid, including the principal.

-- Signed: A teacher for over 20 years, I wish I could sign my name. Just check it out!

Parents respond

I wish that what happened was just in Eagleview. You have seen the tip of the iceberg for this is happening in every school, in every school district.

Children with ADHD and more common schizophrenia are lost in the school system. ... I pulled my own son out of school for he was picked on by "the populars." Talking to the school administration was a waste of time. Too few teachers in the school system have the skills needed to handle the problem.

-- RW
Over the Internet

I am the parent of an eighth-grade male minority student at Eagleview Middle School and wanted to send a message in appreciation of your article on Kerby Guerra.

... We have definitely felt the sting of living among the WASPs of Rockrimmon -- where we moved, incidentally, because of District 20's good reputation. ... I try to be optimistic that race relations are improving, but from what I continue to experience, racism is just more subtle. ... I do believe there is a problem at Eagleview and probably other District 20 schools as well. Thanks for helping to expose this very troubling issue and for listening to me.

-- JH
Over the Internet

I cannot imagine the pain and constant sorrow of losing a child, but blaming everyone else or "the system" for one's own feelings of guilt is not the answer. Why are educators supposed to be the answer or solution to adolescent problems? The staff and administration at Eagleview did not intend for this to happen; maybe they could have done more, but it's always easy to look back and see what could have been done to alleviate or avert a situtation. I resent your implication that the Eagleview staff deliberately ignored or belittled this particular situation.

Both of my blond-haired, blue-eyed sons "graduated" from Eagleview. ... One of my sons was harassed and thumped on by an Afro-American boy, because he was not a good athlete. I spent a lot of time talking with him and helping him work through it ... at no time did I blame the staff for the problem.

We're talking about budding adolescents here: They are just beginning to develop good social skills, and are often rude and impolite -- not intentionally, but because they are so self-absorbed they don't know any better. ... They need the love and support and guidance of family to help them through the rough spots.

-- SH
Over the Internet

I wanted to pass on my sympathy to the parents [of Kerby Guerra]. I can empathize with their stuggle with District 20. My daughter experienced similar torture at Prairie Hills Elementary during the 1997-98 school year. ...

When our daughter would report mistreatment on the playground or in the classroom, she was told to get over it. Our daughter's self-esteem was so low, every day her head would be hanging by the time she got home. Then, we would spend all evenings and weekends building her back up.

My husband witnessed the teacher's allowance of rude behavior and reported every episode to the principal. It wasn't just our daughter that was abused. ...

Our daughter was very unhappy and believed she wasn't likable. We homeschooled [her] last year and built her back up to a happy, creative, positive child. Last year, D20 hired a new principal for Prairie Hills. The new principal has established processes for all areas of school-related activities that enforce good citizenship -- and they are enforced.

I would be willing to supply copies of our correspondence with the principal at that time if that would help support the Guerra's interaction with District 20. Bad citizenship with our children has got to stop, and it can't be tolerated any longer.

-- NC
Over the Internet

The cruel student, the school staff and the Guerras made a lot of mistakes in handling Kerby's situation. I know the Guerras are very grief-stricken over Kerby's death, but placing blame in a suicide is a very tricky business. They have taken the wrong path in going public with their accusations against such a convenient scapegoat, a public school, that institutional cause for all society's ills. That makes it so easy for a reporter to print a one-sided story. Doesn't it seem fair to also report what her parents did wrong? ... Go ahead and name the student perpetrators in the article. They deserve to feel shame. There's a lot of guilt to go around.

-- KK
Over the Internet

The tragedy of young Kerby Guerra is a heartbreak we as a community must not face again. [We must call] for district administrators to take appropriate measures to provide a truly safe environment [for everyone].

We as parents can rise to protect our beautiful future -- our children. This is an endeavor we must respect. God bless the child.

-- Signed: Parent of Eagleview student
Over the Internet

Mental health professionals respond

The harassment and incivility problem at Eagleview remains unacknowledged by administration. What is needed is recognition and acknowledgement by all parties: students, parents, teachers, administrators and the board. [Two key questions] are: 1) How is recognition and acknowledgement achieved? 2) What techniques or experiences have been successful in dealing with these problems?

Two books [that address the problem] are Raising Cain by two psychologists who discuss some measures in the back of their book, and Lost Boys. Both are popular books at the moment.

-- PE
Over the Internet

I am a school psychologist in Pueblo schools and have 21 years experience as such. ... Harassment is usually blamed on the victim when the victim seeks help; this is true of both students and professionals in the schools.

Seldom is anything done to help the person being harassed, and often, this person is referred for counseling. The harasser is seldom dealt with. This is a big problem in schools. Nobody admits to it. Nobody talks about it.

-- JM
Over the Internet


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