Last April, 17-year-old Jack Reed took his life in a school dormitory,with hisBible and a suicide note.Reed attended Lawrenceville High School, one of the nation’s best boarding schools. Inhis suicide note, Reed showed his parents a Google file detailing his despair.
On April 30, the anniversary of Jack’s death, Lawrenceville High School in New Jersey admitted to making extraordinary mistakes, publicly stating that the school had learned that Jack had been bullied by other students, but had “tragically” failed in its duty to protect.
In a statement released on its official website, Lawrenceville School acknowledged that bullying and hostile behavior, as well as the school’s actions or inactions, may have contributed to Jack’s premature death.
The school has pledged to take a series of corrective measures, including funding the establishment of an academic dean position responsible for student mental health issues, with the aim of becoming a model school for combating bullying and promoting student well-being.The statement was issued on the same day that the school and Jack’s parents(Elizabeth and Bill Reed), reached a settlement agreement.
The settlement agreement has revealed the school’s shortcomings prior to Jack’s untimely death in an honest and detailed manner, providing a window into the culture of elite boarding schools such as Lawrenceville, where the annual boarding tuition fee is as high as $76,000. At the same time, it represents a shift in attitudes towards the mental health crisis among teenagers and the role of bullying in a series of potential factors that lead to suicide.
Dr. Reed, Jack’s mother and a clinical psychologist, stated in an interview, “We felt like we were in a prison without the possibility of parole. The only change I want here is to have Jack back, but that is impossible.” Jack’s father also participated in the interview.
She added, “I know that if he were still alive, Jack would want the two of us to make something positive out of this tragedy, in memory of his life.”
Alan Lieberman, the former chief suicide prevention specialist of the second-largest public school system in the United States, praised Lawrenceville’s response as rare and exceptionally courageous. He said he had never seen a school publicly accept responsibility in such a way following a suicide. He said, “We really need to talk about this more; it’s one of the major reasons why teenagers die.”
Lawrenceville’s statement said the university’s settlement with the Raiders was intended to “honor Jack, take appropriate responsibility, and initiate effective reforms that support the university’s vision of being an anti-bullying and mental-health role model.”
COVID-19 exacerbates an already alarming mental health crisis among adolescents ； The situation is exacerbated by a severe shortage of therapists and treatment options, as well as insufficient research to interpret the trend. In 2021, nearly 60% of girls reported persistent sadness. According to a report released in February by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after two years of decline, suicide rates began to rise during the year, especially among those most affected by COVID-19.
Christine Yu Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the causes of suicide are complex and never limited to one stressor.In an interview, Dr. Murtier said (referring to the general situation, not Jack or any other specific incident), “Bullying is certainly an important part of the many factors that ultimately lead to suicide. But forIn any case of suicide, bullying is not considered the sole cause.”
Lawyers representing the Reeds declined to comment on whether the settlement would involve the university paying the families.
Lawrenceville Middle School is located in western New Jersey, next to Trenton and Princeton. About 830 students study and live on the huge campus. Niche, a ranking website, calls Lawrenceville one of the 10 best boarding schools in the country. Prior to 10th grade in Lawrenceville, Jack attended the prestigious day school Barclay School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he was recognized as an outstanding and kind leader. Jack’s parents said about 900 people attended the funeral and another 1,500 people watched the service online.
During the fall semester of 2020, Jack started as a 10th-grade student at Lawrenceville School. His parents said that at the beginning, Jack was happy, made friends, and was also named to the honor roll.
However, according to his parents, during the spring semester of 2020, a false rumor about Jack raping someone started circulating throughout the student body and received cruel comments from some students.
In September 2021, when Jack was promoted to 11th grade, he was elected as the dormitory president of Dickinson House. His parents said that this seemed to have intensified some students’ hostility toward him, and the spread of rumors further escalated.
According to Jack’s parents, a few days after the election, unfounded rape allegations were anonymously posted on an app that was popular among students in American boarding schools. They said that this bullying behavior went viral online, and during Christmas, Jack received a rape whistle and a book on how to make friends in a private gift exchange.
His father recalled that Jack was deeply hurt and appeared quite withdrawn during the Christmas break. Mr. Reed said that Jack asked him, “Dad, will this ever go away? Can these rumors disappear from the internet?”
Mr. Reed noted that the combination of in-person bullying on campus and the power of online posts further amplified the impact of the rumors.
Mr. Reed, Jack’s father, said, “We believe that the echo chamber effect of the internet amplified the harm caused by bullying to children by a thousand times, resulting in extreme behavior in Jack’s case. He had to escape from the pain of being deeply humiliated.”
At the beginning of the bullying, Jack, with the support of his parents, approached the school management and requested intervention, which led to an investigation into the bullying and sexual assault allegations.
According to the school’s statement, the investigation showed that the sexual assault allegations were entirely false, and a student who participated in spreading rumors about Jack received disciplinary action for bullying and was subsequently expelled for violating school rules.
However, Lawrenceville never told Jack or his family (or anyone else) that the investigation found the sexual assault rumors to be entirely baseless!
In the statement, Lawrenceville said, “Looking back, the school did not take the necessary steps, including publicly or privately declaring that the investigation did not find any relevant rumors.”
The school and the Reed family also tried to remove comments related to sexual assault allegations from the application but were unsuccessful.
Lawrenceville also admitted to the specific details of their mistakes. On the night Jack committed suicide, just hours after the student who bullied him was formally expelled, the expelled student was not supervised by the school as he packed his bags to leave the campus. Instead, he was allowed to participate in a lengthy farewell ceremony that included campus running and group photos. At the gathering, some students severely criticized Jack and wrongly blamed him for the other student’s expulsion.
The school statement acknowledges, “The administrators did not learn or check Jack’s status. On that night, Jack ended his life, telling a friend that he could not bear it anymore.”
Dr. Reed said that Jack had sought medical intervention due to being bullied but had never mentioned suicide. The mother stated that she did not notice any potential signs of Jack being at risk of suicide.
Speaking to the media, the Reeds said Jack was a “happy, motivated and well-adjusted teenager with a strong social support system including friends and devoted family.”
The statement reads, “Jack loves his school and community, treats people with respect and kindness. He has a bright future. We hope that other families will not suffer such a tragic loss. We never imagined that such a happy child would go to suicide. We thought that if our son had been so unfortunate, others might not have been spared either. The dangers of bullying and cyberbullying must be addressed more seriously. Jack’s school admits that in retrospect it should have taken steps to tackle bullying and that it will implement a comprehensive plan to combat it.”
The Reeds set up a special fund for education and bullying prevention named after their son.Lawrenceville is committed to the fund; it will also continue to fund a mental health organization that supports research and best practices in suicide prevention in school settings.
In America, most state laws require public schools to investigate and respond to bullying and require directives to limit its spread.But private schoolsas well as churchschools aswell as boarding schools have far more autonomy in how to deal with bullyingthan dostate schools。
Mr. Reed said his family wanted to lobbyfor legislation in New York and New, in an effort to strengthen laws against bullying in private schools.
In its statement, Lawrenceville Middle School said it would contract an expert to draft a policy to identify and address behaviors that contribute to campus and online bullying. “We acknowledge that we should have done more to protect Jack,” the school said.