On Education: Drew's story should never have been written

An autopsy report is a difficult read.

So, too, was poring through a lawsuit filed against the Glendale Unified School District in December by the family of Drew Ferraro, a 15-year-old Crescenta Valley High School student who committed suicide one year ago next month.

It is a story about a kid who loved music but could no longer find refuge in it. It is a story about someone with a flair for practical jokes, but whose own laughter had ceased. It is the story of a drowning, despite the lifeboats floating all around.

Starting in fall 2010, Drew was the target of sustained harassment by multiple unnamed classmates, the lawsuit alleges. It included verbal taunts, physical altercations, cyber-bullying and other means of intimidation.

In January 2011, Drew’s father, John Ferraro, and his older sister, Desiree Ferraro, filed separate reports with Crescenta Valley High School. According to the lawsuit the problems continued, and in May 2011 Drew was involved in two fights in which he was struck in the face.

His grades suffered. He slept for extended periods of time. He resisted going to school. He was dismissed from the football team.

In fall 2011, Drew’s mother read text messages on his phone that alluded to suicide, according to the lawsuit. His parents had him assessed by mental health professionals and he was diagnosed with depression. All the while, school officials failed to take appropriate action to deter the malicious behavior of Drew’s assailants and to keep his family sufficiently updated, despite multiple communications from the Ferraros urging that they do so, the lawsuit alleges.

To be clear, this is the Ferraros’ description of the events. The lawsuit does nothing to resolve disparate claims about what might have prompted Drew’s suicide. District administrators and law enforcement officials maintain that they do not believe bullying was a factor.

An attorney for the Ferraros said Tuesday he had seen communications between the family and school officials regarding harassment in the months leading up to Drew’s death, but declined to make them public. The family also intends to keep the suicide notes private, he said.

Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan declined to comment.

What is laid bare — more plainly than in the autopsy report made public in May, or in the $2-million claim filed by the Ferraros with the district in July — is that Drew was flailing. He was flailing wildly, and somehow, despite at least some knowledge of the situation, the adults in his life were unable to provide the help he needed.

Maybe it was a case of fragmented information. Perhaps the various parties — family, doctors, and school staff — each knew just a portion of the facts. Last year, several of Drew’s classmates told me he was not the type to lay his burden on others, so it is likely that the teenager kept some or much of what he was suffering to himself.

Still, his death represents a failure on multiple fronts.

Among the most distressing details in the lawsuit is that Drew’s mother saw a condolence message posted on her child’s Facebook page shortly after his death but before the family was formally notified. How is it that in an era of mobile phones and social networking she learned nearly instantly of her loss, but that in the months prior the Ferraros and other responsible adults were unable to effectively communicate for Drew’s benefit?

That is what is so heartbreaking about reading the newly filed lawsuit. It’s not the allegations of bullying — although believe me, those are plenty vivid — nor the description of the suicide itself. Rather it is the account of a young man on a downward spiral who, by multiple accounts, sent off at least a couple emergency flares.

The response was too little, too late.

The lawsuit will drag on. There will be another half dozen headlines about legal proceedings. In two or three years, attorneys for Glendale Unified’s liability pool will likely reach a settlement with the Ferraro family. The sum will eventually be made public.

But at its core, it will remain a story about the loss of a kid who loved music and loved a good laugh — a story that never should have been written.


MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

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