Jeremiah Lasater case
High school still reeling from Acton teen's

Contra Costa Times
By Karen Maeshiro and Jerry Berrios

Jeremiah Lasater was a gentle giant. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he was the kind
of teen who could bully kids if he wanted.

Instead, the 14-year-old Vasquez High School freshman was the one who got
pushed around. Classmates routinely pulled down his pants as he walked the halls.
They threw food at him in the cafeteria. They made fun of the boy with the thick
glasses who took special education classes.

The teasing started around sixth grade, said senior German Hernandez, a teaching
assistant in Lasater's fifth-period Algebra I class. Kids called him a nerd.

"He didn't deserve that," he said. "He should have talked to somebody."

Jeremiah apparently kept his troubles to himself, but Monday, he decided he
couldn't take it anymore. After a student threw chili on him during lunch, he walked
to a boy's bathroom, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head.

"Football was the only thing for him. He started this year," his father, Jeff Lasater,
told the Associated Press, adding that he didn't know his son was being teased. "He
sounded OK," he said. "He didn't tell us."

School and Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District officials said they were
unaware of any bullying or teasing being directed at Jeremiah and saw no warning
signs that he was troubled. They said the district was doing its own investigation.

[Maura Larkins' note: This sounds exactly like what education attorney
Daniel Shinoff tells schools to say.  Deny everything.  How can you fix a
problem if you deny it?  See how Daniel Shinoff handled the
Santana High
School Shooting.  There should be no surprise that two-and-a-half years
after the Santana shooting, a
student at Santana was severely roughed up
at football practice, at the direction of the coach, for having reported a
hazing incident.   Shinoff made money off the hazing case as well as the
shooting case.  Why would he want bullying to stop?  He makes a living
defending schools where it takes place and adults who do it. ]

Daniel Shinoff's
Bully Booklet

Superintendent Stan Halperin said the district has a zero tolerance policy against
bullying and that staff had been trained to look for signs of problems relating to
such behavior.

"If there was any way to prevent this, absolutely we would do it," Halperin said. "No
one saw it coming. No one had any indication. Just the opposite. He was in great
spirits, had a great game, a great weekend."

On Monday evening, about 300 people attended a candlelight vigil held in
Jeremiah's memory. Parent Melissa Haggai, whose daughter is a Vasquez
sophomore, went to the vigil and said she came away mad.

"I was angry because everybody was talking about how great this kid was, he was
happy, he was cheering the football team on," Haggai said. "Everyone was talking
like this. Then why is he dead? Why did he kill himself when he was all these good
things? Where was everyone when he needed them?"

Senior Lesia O'Connor, 17, said other students tried to defend Jeremiah but "not
enough to make a big difference."

While Jeremiah's death is tragic, it's part of a trend among teens, according to the
American Psychological Association. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for
young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by homicide and accidents.
In 2005, the latest year available, more than 4,200 youth in that age group
committed suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That's down
from the 4,316 suicides recorded in 2004, but up from the 3,988 reported 2003.
A 2004 report from the National Institute of Mental Health indicated risk factors for
suicide include depression and other mental disorders as well as substance abuse.

"The most common reason for suicide among youth is depression," said Peter
Jensen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who heads up the New York-based
REACH Institute, an organization that provides training in anti-bullying programs and
how to identify children at risk for depression.

"When someone is under repeated stress, they think there's no way out, there's
despair, a feeling that life can't change," Jensen said. "When you get into that kind
of depressed state, thoughts of suicide are very common."

Bullying is one of those major stresses, he added.

"If you are humiliated in front of others, think about it for a teen - this is your life, you
are surrounded by all of the other people who define who you are and how you
should feel about yourself," he said. "Bullying is a major problem across the country
and has to be taken very seriously."

Jensen stressed the importance of the role of schools in combating bullying.
"From the administrators down to the teachers, the janitors and the students
themselves, they have to be aware of how to create model nonbullying settings,"
Jensen said. "Students have to overcome that idea that you are going to be a
tattle-tale. We have to say, 'Stop that. That's not right.'"

[Unfortunately, teachers often model bullying.  See Peters v. Guajome Park

Haggai said by the time teenagers reach high school, the teasing and bullying
phase should be over.

"In high school, they should be maturing out of that stuff. The fact that people are
doing these things, teasing and bullying, throwing food at people in line, that's
insane," she said. "When the shock wears off, there's going to be anger. The kids
need to stand up for each other and protect each other. They need to do it a lot
more and make a difference."

[Throwing food?  That sounds like teachers at Castle Park Elementary.  One
year it took the janitors a week to clean the food and drink off the walls,
carpet and furniture of the teachers lounge.]
School Stories
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The Signal
Santa Clarita Valley
Oct. 21, 2008

...School officials told girls who organized a fundraiser for the Lasater family not to talk to the media.

Michael Daly was a special education teacher at High Desert School, which is the district's middle school. His
contract was not renewed in June. He taught Lasater and is friendly with Lasater's mother.

Daly said he watched other students torment the boy day after day during middle school.

"It was constant. It was a daily verbal assault," Daly said.

Lasater stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds.

"He was a football coach's dream," Daly said. But the size coveted by football coaches made Lasater stand out in all the
wrong ways in the classroom, Daly said.

Other students teased, poked and stole from Lasater since elementary school, Daly said.

Lasater, who suffered from developmental issues, fought back with what he did have, Daly said.

"He got into a lot of fights with other kids," Daly said of the teen.

But Lasater couldn't throw enough punches to stop the teasing, he said.

"Jeremiah (Lasater) decided to do something different in high school. He wasn't going to fight anymore," Daly said.

That didn't stop the teasing. Students continued to taunt Lasater, Daly said.

"The problem was Jeremiah was teased relentlessly," Daly said. "There's significance of him being at school. Jeremiah is
saying, ‘I'm tired of being your victim.'"

Lisa Alonso, the mother of a special-needs daughter, said bullying is common on the Vasquez campus.

"I've known about the bullying for more than two years and it keeps getting worse," Alonso said.

The district is investigating Lasater's suicide, Principal Rosemary Oppenheim said.

There were eight bullying incidents reported on the district's four campuses this year, Halperin said.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy, and when we have an incident of bullying or taunting we address it immediately," Halperin
said. "We call in the parents and follow the policy, which included suspension and following the suspension with a learning
pattern to teach the kids that bullying is wrong."

Suspending bullies is not enough, Daly said.

"They just don't have the resources to teach these kids new behavior," he said. "They have one counselor and one
psychologist for the district."

Daly thought the solution might be simpler than that.

"The message I want to send is: If we practiced kindness, if the students practiced kindness, we wouldn't have had this
happen," Daly said.