Waterloo students protest insensitive comments on suicide

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WARNING: This story contains references to suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.

WATERLOO, N.Y. (WHEC) — High school students in Waterloo walked out of class on Friday morning to protest outside the school for hours. They want an employee fired who they say made a joke about teen suicide.

The joke comes just a few months after an 11-year-old boy who was a student in the district, took his own life; his sister is still a student in the High School.

Students who walked out say it was in protest of comments made earlier this week by a study hall monitor. The students claim the woman said that kids who are feeling suicidal should eat a cookie and they’ll feel better.

Senior Colby Tears said he had an issue with the same employee last year who made comments about his religious choices.

“I personally wrote a DASA form against her last year and nothing was done about it,” he told News10NBC.

In the Waterloo School District, teen suicide hits very close to home for most students.

“It’s a very serious topic and I don’t think that the school takes it that seriously especially, since we have had four students kill themselves,” Tears said.

That death toll includes 11-year-old Gio Bourne who took his own life in June. His mother told News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke during a heartbreaking interview just a few days after his death that he was bullied relentlessly.

“Keep making them hear your voices, I promise you it’s working,” Gio’s Mom, Angelicia Smith told the students through tears at the protest, “I’m so proud of all of you.”

Gio’s sister, Esabella Bourne, is a senior at Waterloo High School and took part in the protest. The students say it’s not just about this one employee.

“We weren’t doing this just to get her fired, we are doing this for a change,” Tears said.

They want a change and more transparency in how the district handles investigations into bullying and mental health issues.

District leaders told the students they are investigating comments made by the monitor.

Later Friday night, Gio’s Mom, Angelicia Smith received a letter from the district banning her from school property for supporting the students who protested.

On Saturday the district released a statement on the protest and the ban of some parents.

The district says in part:

"Although Waterloo Central School District unwaveringly supports rights to free speech, the exercise of such rights cannot infringe on the rights of others, disrupt the instructional day, be insubordinate or otherwise violate the District’s Code of Conduct. Moving forward, should such an incident recur, the District will have no choice but to enforce its Code of Conduct and take disciplinary action against participating students. The District has also temporarily limited access to adults who have violated its Code of Conduct. While the District has no interest in restricting community member or parent access to its property, it is obligated by law to maintain and uphold its Code of Conduct and keep students safe. Adults whose access has been limited due to the September 17th incident will be permitted to access school property for legitimate purposes moving forward upon written confirmation that they will comply with the District’s Code of Conduct. Student safety and well-being is the District’s priority."

To read the full statement, click here.