CHICAGO (CBS) — Teirra Black says her son, Jamari, was constantly bullied at school. Others vouched for that. Now it’s one claim of dozens in a federal lawsuit versus the Chicago Public Schools.
Jamari’s attempted suicide in February, and a series of Facebook live videos from his hospital room led to an outcry. For the first time, the mother who sits by her son’s bedside day and night, sat down with CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards to talk about the day everything changed.
On Feb. 18, Jamari pleaded with his mother to let him stay home from school the next day. It’s a plea Teirra Black still hears.
“He said ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.’ He said, ‘I’m tired of them messing with me at that school,’” she said.
According to a freshly filed federal lawsuit, Jamari was tired of being called “stupid,” “dumb,” and “retarded”; of being picked on by students, and singled out by teachers at Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
Black said she asked to have her 4th grade son transferred to another school because of the harassment he faced at Woodson.
“I asked for help, and I didn’t get it, and I’m so mad,” she said.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Jamari decided he wasn’t going back to school. He went up to his room, stood on a suitcase, and wrapped a red sheet around his neck.
“I started screaming. I’m like, ‘Jamari!’ I fell to my knees. I said, ‘What did you do, Jamari?’” she said.
Family attorney Jon Erickson said Jamari suffered a severe brain injury and will need breathing assistance for the rest of his life.
“The diagnosis, first of all, is anoxic brain injury. He was deprived of oxygen to the brain for over 11 minutes, which means that the neural cells died. He also has chronic respiratory failure,” Erickson said. “He’s breathing through a tube, and he’s breathing through a tube because of the criminal indifference of the Chicago Public Schools.”
Erickson has three ongoing lawsuits against CPS.
One lawsuit involves a special needs student at the same school, who was dragged and choked by a teacher, who was fired and criminally charged.
Another federal lawsuit alleges the dean of students at South Shore Fine Arts Academy choked a 9-year-old special needs student until the child couldn’t breathe. The dean, Christopher Thomas, was charged with aggravated battery, and the district is moving to fire him.
“These are children who have special needs. They are most at risk, and yet they’re put further in risk by those that we trust or should be able to trust to keep them safe, keep them happy and provide an environment conducive to learning,” Erickson said. “The Chicago Public Schools system has failed at that at a criminal level.”
Teirra Black said Jamari and his sister were harassed so much at Woodson, she looked forward to weekends safe from ridicule.
“Every time Friday come, I was relieved that my children didn’t have to go to school to endure what was going on at Woodson,” she said. “Jamari didn’t know how to read. Like, some of the basic words like dog and cat, simple words; he couldn’t get it. It’s not that he didn’t want to learn how to get it, it’s that he couldn’t get it no matter how much I tried.”
“He even cried to me one day,” she added. “He was like, ‘Mommy, I’m trying. I want to know how to read. I just can’t.”
Now, Jamari can’t move. He can barely see.
Black admits it hurts most when he cries because he can’t tell her why.
Asked if she feels like her son is still there, Black said “not always.”
“When I be in that room, and I look at my son, sometimes I take the chair and turn it toward the window so I don’t have to look at him like that,” she said.
But then she does every day and every night.
On Tuesday, Jamari spent an hour off the ventilator as a trial, and it worked. Baby steps.
Chicago Public Schools released the following statements regarding the situation:
“Chicago Public Schools is deeply committed to the safety of all students and fostering welcoming learning environments. The district actively engages families and school communities and offers supports following student incidents, and we are committed to holding accountable any adult who has fallen short of their duty to keep students safe,” Emily Bolton said.
The district says it is limited in what it can provide due to student privacy law, it does confirm district representatives did communicate with Jamari’s family following the incident.
“This is a horrible tragedy, and the thoughts and prayers of the Chicago Public Schools community are with Jamari and his loved ones. The allegations that have been made are highly concerning, and the district is conducting a full investigation,” Michael Passman said in a statement.
The district previously said it launched an investigation, reached out to Jamari’s family to provide support, and deployed crisis assistance resources to students and staff at Woodson. The district cited its anti-bullying policy, saying it does not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form and CPS will hold any adults accountable if it is determined they violated district policy.