Sirdeaner Walker was cooking dinner for her family while her son Carl was in his room, where she thought he was doing his homework.
Instead, she later discovered, Carl had hanged himself with an extension cord around his neck. He was 11 years old.
"What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?," Walker asked members of the House Education Committee today. "That question haunts me to this day, and I will probably never know the answer. What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly in school."
Walker was joined today by other parents, students, educators and psychologists testifying before Congress on strategies for improving school safety and violence prevention.
Before his death in April, Carl told his mother he was being pushed around and teased for being "gay" and called a "faggot." But when Walker alerted the school, she said they portrayed Carl as the problem.
"I engaged with the guidance counselor at Carl's school," Walker said. "The guidance counselor met with Carl once a week starting in November until his death. She would come up with a grid for his teachers, and his teachers would sign in '1' if he behaved or '0' if he didn't behave. What I found was, it was sort of like the victim, which was Carl, he became the problem. It was like it was Carl's problem.
"I did everything that a parent is supposed to," Walker said. "I choose a 'good' school; I joined the PTO; I went to every parent-teacher conference; I called the school regularly and brought the bullying problem to the staff's attention. And the school did not act. The teachers did not know how to respond.
"School bullying is a national crisis and we need a national solution to deal with it," Walker said. "Teachers, administrators and other school personnel need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school. Congress can make sure they have that guidance and support by making anti-bullying policies mandatory at all of our nation's schools."
The other members of the panel testifying before the House Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities agreed that schools need to reevaluate their approach towards dealing with bullying in schools.
Scott Poland, president of the National Association of School Psychologists, argued for a more comprehensive community-based approach to dealing with bullies and school violence, saying teachers and adults must know when to step in.
"Their very inactivity has condoned the behavior," he said.
Poland noted that many students do not turn to adults because they do not trust the adults around them, they fear retaliation or they have been conditioned not to "tattle tale."
Students, on the other hand, argued before the committee that peer-to-peer youth programs are necessary to help children feel safe enough to speak out against bullies.
As one victim, Jacquelyn Andrews -- daughter of committee member Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J. -- explained, "if just one other person had stood up behind me, the bully never would have prevailed. But no one did."
Andrews and her sister, Josie, developed an anti-bullying curriculum that teaches students how to stand up to bullies and make the right choices when they witness school violence or harassment.