I remember being in junior high, though I don’t remember it fondly. Those are the years when most kids are discovering their sexuality, and it was when I began to realize I was more interested in the football players than the cheerleaders. And other students started to realize that about me, too. And so, as happens, I was bullied as being the sissy in class … until the words queer and gay were thrown at me.
I remember sitting in an English class and the teacher asking a question; I knew the answer and raised my hand but before I could even speak I heard …
… behind me. And then the laughter; and then the teacher ignoring the remark and asking her question again, probably hoping I wouldn’t raise my hand.
And I never did again; for a long time I kept quiet, kept my hand down when a question was asked, because I didn’t want to hear that word in class, and didn’t want to see my teachers act like it hadn’t been said.
I still endured the shoves in the hallway and the taunts in P.E., but I knew, instinctively, that there was no one I could tell, because they would all just look away like that English teacher.
It took a while for me to find myself, and to find a group of friends that, while they might have known I was “different,” didn’t care; and it was then that I was able to speak up in class, in life, and to not care about the words hurled at me.
Daniel Fitzpatrick didn’t have that luxury.
After being taunted for being the fat kid, the sensitive kid, and maybe the not-so-smart kid, after complaining to teachers and school officials, after seeing that nothing was ever going to change for him at the Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Staten Island, Daniel, just thirteen, hanged himself … because no one would listen.
But just before he took his own life, Daniel penned a letter — a letter never sent — to the teachers and administrators at Holy Angels, asking why they ignored him, and why they let it happen:
The letter was written after the school returned the Fitzpatrick’s $100 re-registration fee for Daniel, saying the boy should repeat the seventh grade … at another school.
“I gave up. The teachers… they didn’t do anything.”
Daniel’s family is now speaking out about Holy Angels, its principal, Rosemarie McGoldrick, and the teachers, who did nothing to help Daniel. Maureen Fitzpatrick, Daniel’s mother, says her son tried to tell his other teachers, but that he was afraid of them; he felt like the whole school knew what was going on and was “laughing behind his back.”
“My son shouldn’t have to die to be heard. There’s something wrong with the adults in authority positions when kids can’t go to them for help. No parent is supposed to bury their child.”
Daniel wrote in his letter that he had been tormented by a group of five boys:
“They did it constantly. I ended up fighting (one boy) and got a fractured pinkie.”
Kristen, the youngest of Daniel’s three older sisters, also attended Holy Angels, and said that specific teacher was known for humiliating students by holding up tests and papers to publicly humiliate those who did poorly, because nothing makes a child work harder than public shaming.
“If one person didn’t like you, no one liked you. Danny was always left out. He used to come up to me and ask me to get kids to play with him. The other kids would say they thought he was weird.”
But Mr. Fitzpatrick said the bullying his son endured at the school with no one listening, was the cause of his falling grades. It’s vicious cycle; the child his bullied, his grades fail, his teachers humiliate him, his friends bully him, he asks for help, the answer is to remove him from the school.
The Brooklyn-Queens Diocese, which oversees the school, would not discuss any bullying complaints raised by Daniel, but did release a statement concerning his death:
“In light of this tragedy we are reexamining all bullying prevention policies and training. The principal, teachers, and staff of Holy Angels Catholic Academy are heartbroken over the loss of Danny Fitzpatrick. We take the issue of bullying very seriously and address every incident that is brought to our attention.”
Wait; now, after this child, who apparently begged for help, took his own life rather than suffer one more day being bullied by classmates and ignored by teachers, now they are reexamining their policies?
And they won’t discuss the complaints Daniel raised? Well, that certainly makes it appear that they knew of his complaints, knew about the problem, and decided the best course would be to send the victim to another school.
Or, have the family investigated; the Fitzpatrick’s say that Holy Angels had social workers investigate them. Daniel’s parents voluntarily submitted to substance abuse testing; they passed.
The school failed. They let this child die; they are as much a bully as every single student who ever taunted Daniel Fitzpatrick, or any other student.
“My son is not supposed to be dead. My son is supposed to be playing football. My son is supposed to be home with his family.” — Maureen Fitzpatrick
And so now, wanting to hold the school responsible for ignoring Daniel, the Fitzpatrick’s are sharing their son’s letter.
“Mom I want them to know what they did to me and how I feel. I want them to hear my story.” — Daniel Fitzpatrick
“Please. Please. This is hard.”
Harder still for a child who was never heard; a child who will never be heard … except … maybe Daniel’s letter will be his voice; perhaps teachers and administrators at Holy Angel will finally listen, and understand, that name-calling, from students or teachers, is unacceptable; and maybe other teachers, at other schools, who see this sort of ‘boys will be boys’ bullying in their classrooms will put an end to it before one of their students takes his or her own life.
I’m hoping that someone, anyone, will finally listen to Daniel Fitzpatrick and do something about this epidemic of bullying before we lose more Daniel’s. Who knows what that boy might have been had he been given the chance.
That could have been me; I don’t know why it wasn’t, but it could have been me. Perhaps I had something that kept me from believing there was no hope, and perhaps Daniel didn’t; or maybe those who targeted him were far more vile and violent than those who taunted me.
But I can’t help but think … there but for the grace of God …
Listen. Children are killing themselves.