The Death of a Child: Blame shifting and lack of transparency
This is the stuff of parents’ nightmares and it hits close to home for me. I had a similar experience with one of my children. It involved school staff rather than another student. My child is alive and well but I understand the outcome for my family could have been what Cornelia Reynolds is now experiencing.
The school made no mention of the incident to the boy's mother, Cornelia Reynolds, only telling her that he fainted, said Jennifer Branch, an attorney representing Reynolds, adding that they learned about the surveillance video months after the attack in January.
But because the mother didn't know what happened, the doctor at the hospital didn't either, which changed the nature of the medical examination, she said. "If she had known he had lost consciousness for over 7 minutes, that is a critical detail for a medical professional to know," she said.
Reynolds found out about the bullying incident after her attorneys received a copy of a police investigative file that contained an email from a homicide detective to school officials describing the surveillance video, she said.
I too learned about the details of the incident involving my child from a police report. A police report I didn’t know existed until I received an order of protection issued by a court prohibiting the school staff person involved from having any contact with my child. The first person my husband and I spoke to, in person, in the records department of our local police department didn’t want to give us a copy of the police report of the incident involving our own child. We were told to file a freedom of information request to get the report. That went over like a lead balloon.
My child has a disability that interferes with their ability to communicate. They couldn’t tell us what happened to them. School staff were either unable or unwilling to tell us what happened. I’m still not sure which. That police report was our only window into what had happened to our child. We left the building with a copy in our hands that day.
The same day we got our hands on the police report about the incident involving our child my husband and I were in the local district attorney’s office making an appointment to see the assistant district attorneys handling the case against the staff person involved in the incident with our child. In all of this we had received one phone call from our child’s school the day of the incident stating that “something” had happened and one letter a few days later again stating that there had been an incident. I wondered how many other families had gone through a similar experience. How many other incidents had gone unreported?
This part of young Gabe’s story I find galling. It illustrates the failure of the school and the school district to protect the students given over to their care and a breakdown in communication that could have prevented young Gabe’s suffering.
But the school says it has no culpability in what happened to Gabriel and instead stands by a different version of events — one where the school nurse told Reynolds to take her son to the hospital.
"When checking on Gabriel, the school staff members asked him what happened. He responded that he 'fell,'" the district said in its statement Friday. "He later said that he 'fainted.' At no point did Gabriel indicate that he had been hit, yanked, pulled, pushed or assaulted in any way. He had no visible abrasions and there had been no report of a fight of any kind."
"The school nurse checked Gabriel's vital signs, which were normal. She also contacted Gabriel's mother and asked her to pick him up and take him to the hospital to be checked out," the district said in its statement.
Carson Elementary School had surveillance video of the attack on Gabe but relied on the word of the bullied student, a child under duress, for information about what happened. Carson Elementary School failed to fully inform Gabe’s mother about the extent of the attack instead relying on Gabe, who was unconscious for most of it, to do that for them. Lacking vital information, Gabe’s mother and the doctor who examined him in hospital were unable to give Gabe the appropriate medical care. Carson Elementary School staff having found Gabe in the bathroom and having access to surveillance video could have sent him to the hospital themselves but didn’t.
This is the stuff of nightmares. As a parent I am responsible to provide accurate information to authorities and health care professionals about my child, not my child. I wasn’t given accurate information about what happened to my child and neither was this mother. It cost her child his life.
The Cincinnati Public School District seems to think that releasing this video absolves them of any responsibility for young Gabe’s death. What it does prove is that school officials knew that something extraordinary happened to Gabe. This is the kind of information that needs to be conveyed to parents in writing for the protection of all parties involved. Gabe’s mother needed to know, by phone, in person, and in writing the day of the incident what happened to her child.
My husband and I eventually found ourselves in a court room submitting our victim impact statement as the school staff person involved in the incident with our child was sentenced. I sent our victim impact statement to our local school district and our board of education commissioners. Other than a shocked, “Oh my God has anyone reached out to this family?” from one of the commissioners I received no response.
How many more children must suffer before adults take their responsibilities towards children seriously? This year I sat in the front row of a local school board meeting as a mother tearfully begged for help for her child who was afraid to go back to school because of bullying and lack of support from school staff. Hiding incidents like young Gabe’s, or the incident with my child, being unresponsive to the plight of the mother and child dealing with the trauma of bullying, school district officials trying to dodge responsibility when these incidences blow up in their faces do not help. Transparency and responsiveness to the needs of students and their families could have saved Gabe’s life. These are imperative for successful schools and school districts.