Rotterdam Police and school district officials say they still have no direct evidence that bullying led to the suicide of a 14-year-old Schalmont High School student earlier this month.
Superintendent Carol Pallas authored a letter to parents and community members Monday reiterating the district’s position that the boy’s off-campus death Oct. 19 doesn’t appear to be linked to bullying that occurred at school. She said the district didn’t receive any accusations of bullying prior to the student’s death.
“Nevertheless, bullying is an issue that permeates schools throughout the country, and I am not naive to believe that Schalmont is immune,” she wrote in the letter.
Rotterdam Police Lt. Michael Brown said his department’s investigation hasn’t revealed any actions that rise to the level of criminal conduct. He said there’s a chance the teen was subject to “inappropriate behavior,” but that it likely would have been addressed at the district level and not by the police.
“It’s a tragic situation, but at this point, we haven’t seen any evidence of criminal conduct,” he said Monday. “He may have been subject to inappropriate behavior, but at this point, none of it rises to criminal conduct.”
Posts on social media sites continue to suggest the teen was bullied.
Brown said investigators are continuing to track down every lead they get in the case and will leave the investigation open until they stop getting new information.
“We’re going to look into any new information that’s out there,” he said.
District officials released the name of the deceased teen, but it is being withheld by The Daily Gazette. His funeral last week drew hundreds of mourners and several Schalmont students have been trying to pay tribute to the boy by writing his name on their wrists or on T-shirts.
Pallas said there’s a concern in the district about how the death could impact other students in the school.
She said administrators are now trying to balance the need for students to openly grieve with ensuring that a phenomenon known as “suicide contagion” doesn’t lead to additional attempts.
Palllas said the district intends to work with teen suicide experts, mental health professionals and other outside agencies to develop a plan for responding to the “social and emotional needs” at Schalmont. And while she said there are no official bullying reports linked to the student’s suicide, she acknowledged the district has been contacted by concerned parents seeking reassurance that the appropriate bullying prevention efforts are in place at the schools.
“We are committed to protecting all of our students, and a variety of bullying prevention efforts and programs have been put in place over the years,” she wrote in the letter. “However, the recent tragedy has us all thinking about whether we’re doing enough to protect our children.”