Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eric Mohat: Suicide Due To Bullying

The family of Eric Mohat has waited three long years for justice. As far as I am concerned, their son was murdered. A student at Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, Eric was one of those kids who the high school mafia in Mentor, Ohio decided was out of fashion. At 6 foot 1 and 112 pounds, interested in drama and "nerdy" pursuits, every day in the 17 years of his short life was a litany of small torments and insults. Stuffing trash into his clothing, stuffing him into his locker, calling him "fag" and "queer" were daily indignities that were tolerated and ignored by a high school administration that did little to stop the abuse. When a classmate suggested that the world would be better off without him, Eric Mohat decided he had had enough. On March 29, 2007, Eric Mohat killed himself with a single gunshot to his head.

There are suicides that take the world by surprise. Eric Mohat' s suicide was one of four the same year in Mentor High school in the year 2007. For a school of 2900 students, that is a shockingly large cluster of suicides. There are certainly hundreds of other students who are low on the high school social food chain who are living lives of quiet desperation, to whom a year in a miserable life drags on and on.

Is there a bright side to this? Have the people of Mentor, Ohio engaged in agonised soul searching? That would be a happy ending. But Mentor Ohio has decided to paint a happy face on a festering social sore in their midst. After almost three years of community stonewalling and a total lack of remorse, the Mohat family is using the only legal recourse possible against those totally devoid of a conscience. They are filing a lawsuit against the Mentor Ohio school district charging them with standling idly by as their son was tormented by classmates. ABC News reports as follows.

"Eric Mohat, 17, was harassed so mercilessly in high school that when one bully said publicly in class, "Why don't you go home and shoot yourself, no one will miss you," he did.

Now his parents, William and Janis Mohat of Mentor, Ohio, have filed a lawsuit in federal court, saying that their son endured name-calling, teasing, constant pushing and shoving and hitting in front of school officials who should have protected him.

The lawsuit -- filed March 27, alleges that the quiet but likable boy, who was involved in theater and music, was called "gay," "fag," "queer" and "homo" and often in front of his teachers. Most of the harassment took place in math class and the teacher -- an athletic coach -- was accused of failing to protect the boy."

The Mohats are not seeking monetary damages. They only want the school to put anti bullying programs into the school curriculum. In the suit, they claim that the school urged parents to stonewall in the investigation that followed their son's suicide. ABC News reports again as follows.

"According to Janet Klee, a counselor at Chrysalis, a suicide survivors support group, who counseled two of the surviving families, the suicides were connected to bullying.

"These kids," said Klee, "were extremely bright, and [the bullies] thought they were nerds. I say that not in a derogative but in a good sense. These were good kids who were easy targets for bullying."

Dan Hughes, whose son Brandon was a friend of Eric's, said he had withdrawn his son from Mentor High School after he was relentlessly bullied. Brandon, now 19 and working, wrote a suicide note, citing the taunts, two weeks after Eric Mohat's death.

"What it boils down to is the football players, cheerleaders and kids with money have a different set of rules than everybody else," Hughes told

"It's not that much out of the ordinary, and the disturbing part is the school is more concerned about sweeping it under the rug than getting to the bottom of what's going on," he said."

The lawsuit , which was filed in federal court names names school administrators Jacqueline A. Hoynes and Joseph Spiccia, as well as math teacher Thomas M. Horvath. It does not name the parents of any of those who tormented the Mohat boy. Amazingly enough, three years later, the school remains clueless. , Mentor Public School District communications director Justin Maynor actually said, "Generally, there is a very low incidence of violence at the school. Considering its population, it's a relatively serene place." Maynor maintains that the suicides have nothing to do with bullying.

Unfortunately, people like that can't be stuffed into a locker or pelted with school food. Lawsuits are the only legal recourse against such idiots as Mr. Maynor

There are probably millions of parents and kids to whom Janet Klee's words have the ring of truth. The attitude that "kids will be kids" dismisses acts of violence which would be criminal if committed by adults. And dumbing down behavioral expectations reduces the quality of behavior. When someone realises that there are consequences to hitting, pushing and verbal harassment, then they tend to wise up real quick.

Bullies and victims are often one and the same. A child who is picked on will often try to get a cheap fix for his self esteem by finding another kid lower on the food chain. Breaking the cycle of aggression in a school environment often means cutting through tough exteriors and dealing with fearful youth who may themselves be aggressors.

I have vivid memories of my youth being bullied and bullying others in turn. I am not proud of it, but the memories have radically influenced my parenting. I spend as much time asking about lunch and recess as I do about school. I tell my children, Even if you flunk every subject, if you pass recess and lunch, it will make me proud of you." Parents should be honest with themselves and try to remember with compassion the suffering of their youth and put it to good use in raising their children.

It may sound odd, but it's true. In a corporate environment, social behavioral skills are at least as important as academic standing. Years ago, I observed a guy who was a top jock in school who could peel paint off the wall with a theatrically devastating sneer. In a work environment, he lasted about a week and a half. Pushing the work load on to the "nerds" didn't cut it. He didn't get "detention". He got sent home. A lot of people are set straight in this expensive and painful way.

Social behavior should be a weighted at least as heavily as sports and academics. I have observed learning environments in which this happens. It has a transformative effect that benefits everyone. There are bullies who need to learn to meet their emotional needs in ways that are not predatory. And their are victims that need to learn social skills that will make them less attractive to those who would torment them.

Mentor High School should change its name. The most important job in education is that of a behavioral mentor. Mentor High School has dismissed this critical aspect of their function entirely. They show callous and reckless indifference to the toxic environment in their school.

The Mohat family has been far too kind. They would be well advised to sue the school for monetary damages and to go after the parents of the children who made their son's life a living hell. If they want to donate the money to counseling programs and related charitable causes, that might be more in keeping with their apparently gentle temperament.

Children may be smaller than adults. But their feelings often loom larger in intensity and in force than those of adults. The idea that adults should consign the social world of children to the background like a tank full of pretty piranha fish in the living room should be put to rest.

The weapon of civilised people is courts of law. It is through the courts that legal consequences can be exacted for criminal behavior. If schools will not take harassment seriously, then perhaps they, as well as the parents of the children involved should be brought to task. I salute the Mohat family for seeking redress in the courts. It seems like nothing else has worked in the heartless town of Mentor, Ohio. Even now, I think that the Mohats have been far too kind in limiting the scope of their lawsuit. I wish them success, for their sake and that of the children who continue to suffer in silence.

I rarely write a postscript to an article. But if you are a student who is being bullied, I want you to know that you are not ignored or forgotten. Please hang in there. Speak to someone close to you. There is life after high school. A day will come sooner than you think that you can show others the compassion that you are now denied in your daily life. When this happens, you will feel that your suffering is vindicated. Until then, please, please hang in there.

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