An elite New Jersey boarding school has admitted its failure a year after a bullied pupil died by suicide.
Jack Reid, 17, attended the prestigious Lawrenceville School and took his own life last April after being bullied over false rumours that he was a rapist.
The school, which charges an annual fee of up to $76,000 for its 830 students, issued a statement on Sunday recognising its own role in the teenager’s death.
“The school acknowledges that bullying and unkind behaviour, and actions taken or not taken by the school, likely contributed to Jack’s death,” Lawrenceville officials wrote in a statement posted on the school’s website.
The statement was part of an agreed settlement between the school and Reid’s family.
The teenager joined the school in the fall of 2020, but in the following spring semester, a rumour that he was a rapist began to spread among students. But despite the rumours, Reid returned to the school in September 2021 and was elected president of the school housing where he lived.
His parents told the New York Times that they believe this exacerbated the bullying and he continued to be harassed by students at the school and also online.
The newspaper says that during a Secret Santa gift exchange, he was given a rape whistle and a book on how to make friends.
His father, Bill Reid, also said that his son at one point asked him if the bullying and false accusations would “ever go away.”
Before he died by suicide, his parents say that Reid asked school officials to intervene and they launched an investigation into both the bullying and sexual assault allegations.
The school found no evidence to support the allegations but did not acknowledge that privately or publicly, says the Times.
Reid and his parents were never told that he had been cleared by the investigation before his death.
“There were steps that the School should in hindsight have taken but did not,” the school wrote in its statement. And it added: “We recognize that in Jack’s case, we fell tragically short.”
“Jack was universally regarded as an extremely kind and good-hearted young man, with an unwavering sense of social and civic responsibility and a bright future. We continue to mourn this loss.”
The night of Reid’s death, his family says that he put a Bible in his gym shorts and left a note directing his parents to a document in which he outlined his feelings of helplessness.
“He had to escape the pain from the humiliation he was feeling,” his father told the newspaper.
And his mother, Dr Elizabeth Reid, a clinical psychologist, added: “We feel like we both have life sentences without the possibility of parole.”
“The only thing I’d love to change here is to get Jack back. I can’t. I do know if he were alive, he would want me — both of us — to try to make something good out of this and honor him in the way he lived his life.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone free of charge over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.