Justice for Bullied Transgender Teacher Who Committed Suicide

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Target: Darienne Driver, Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools

Goal: Apologize for school’s inaction in addressing bullied transgender teacher who ultimately committed suicide.

After ten years of bullying by peers in the Milwaukee Public School System, teacher Karis Ross committed suicide. Ms. Ross’ death is a tragedy in itself, but the school system added insult by reportedly concealing its role in her suicide. Recently released emails reveal that Ross pleaded for her school’s principal to end the bullying she suffered as a transgender woman, to no avail.

Just days before her death, Ms. Ross requested help dealing with hostility at work. Ross noted in her email that, three years after her transition, the principal continued to misgender her, reportedly undermining her in public. Despite such casual cruelty, Karis Ross remained collegial. Fox News reports that she acknowledged the difficulty of adjusting to her transition, saying “I  know you meant no offense by such a slip-up. Old habits die hard,” and asked for a meeting to devise “practical solutions to some of the difficulties” she faced. Rather than intervening to ensure a safe work environment, the principal reportedly emailed human resources for advice. He did not even deign to respond to Ms. Ross, according to the emails received by Fox News.

Just days later, Karis Ross was dead. In a letter to the district superintendent, Madeline Deitrich wrote that the school administration’s unresponsiveness “undoubtedly contributed to the suicide death” of her friend, Karis Ross.

Rather than acknowledging its culpability in Ross’ death and working to redress its failures, the Milwaukee Public School System continues to deny responsibility. A spokesperson told Fox that “it was not evident until Ms. Ross’ November 26, 2014 email that she felt she was being bullied… The principal responded immediately… scheduling an appointment to talk to her.” Those statements are incompatible with reports on the subject. The emails received by Fox show that the principal allegedly never responded to Ms. Ross. Moreover, Madeline Deitrich’s letter to the superintendent states that, for weeks, “numerous emails were exchanged between Ms. Ross, school officials and the medical community.” Any educational institution must demonstrate the integrity to acknowledge and correct its faults. Demand the Milwaukee Public School System apologize for its reported contribution to Karis Ross’ suicide.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Superintendent Driver,

Beloved teacher, daughter, and friend Karis Ross committed suicide after enduring ten years of bullying from her peers and supervisors. Rather than acknowledging and working to correct its apparent complicity in her tragic death, Milwakie Public Schools disavowed any responsibility. District spokesperson Denis Callaway told Fox that emails alleging bullying appeared only shortly before Ross’ death and that “The principal responded immediately when he saw the email… scheduling an appointment to talk to her.” Not only is that concern with diverting blame disrespectful, it appears to have led a school official to make false statements to the public. Fox reports that the emails it received contain no correspondence from the principal to Ms. Ross.

Acknowledging the the Milwaukee Public School system failed Ms. Ross is the first, most critical step in ensuring the future safety of your staff and students. Without that capacity for self assessment, your school system’s policies have no meaning. Indeed, Ms. Ross was reportedly bullied despite an administrative policy that precluded gender discrimination. Staff need to be retrained, policy needs to be clarified, and communities need to be comforted. Before any of that can happen, though, you and your school district must come to terms with your roll in the death of Karis Ross.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Jeramey Jannene

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