Family of teen who took her own life pushing lawmakers for anti-bullying ordinance
By Janelle MacDonald
(LOUISVILLE) -- When Kentucky lawmakers return for work Tuesday, one Bullitt County family will be watching very closely because they're pushing a bill that's close to their hearts. It involves school bullying, a topic WAVE 3 has covered several times. What we discovered is that measures to protect kids from bullies vary widely from school to school. WAVE 3 Janelle MacDonald investigates.
With her trademark sunglasses and lip gloss, Rachel Neblett was hard to forget. Her father, Mark Neblett, says "She couldn't go anywhere without those glasses and her lip gloss; loved lip gloss."
Mark's sister and Rachel's aunt, Sheila Stanton, describes Rachel as a "teeny little thing, not even five foot tall, little bitty, but just had a personality that was bigger than herself."
Mark says his daughter "was full of smiles, always, laughter, she loved life."
On October 9th, 2006, Rachel's life became too much to bear. It was a typical Monday when she killed herself inside her parents' home.
"My wife called me and said come home," Mark recalls. "She (Mark's wife) came home from work and went looking for her, went in her bedroom, she wasn't there; noticed our bedroom door was closed and that's where she was."
Rachel's dad, Mark, says he knew the 17-year-old was being bullied online. "One afternoon she mentioned to her sister that she had gotten something, some kind of letter or something on her email."
Mark says it was only after Rachel's death that he found out how bad those messages were.
"That person, whoever it was, knew exactly every move she made and then the last letter that we got, or she got, stated that they weren't going to put her in the hospital, they were going to put her in the morgue. She was terrified, just totally terrified. She wouldn't tell us."
Rachel's school was aware of the problem and Mark Neblett says he can't fault them for how administrators handled it, following Rachel constantly without her knowing.
What he does wish is that something would have been done long ago to stop the problem before it ever got this bad.
He says, "Teaching the teachers, training the teachers and the staff."
Then Mark heard about a bill before the Kentucky legislature that would require school districts to have policies in place to deal with bullying and proactive procedures to prevent it before it starts. He started working to get it passed, with help from Rachel's aunt, Sheila.
"I don't want to see this happen to anybody else," Sheila says. "It's been a terrible thing for our family."
What Mark and Sheila found is that the bill is not new. It was introduced two years ago, and last year passed the House unanimously before dying in the senate education committee.
Louisville senator Tim Shaughnessy says "If it could get to the floor, there's broad support to pass the bill."
Shaughnessy sits on that committee.
"Even if the majority of the Senate is for something, if Senate leadership is not for it, then it never gets before the entire body," Shaughnessy.
Mark and Sheila have started a letter writing campaign to change those minds.
"We've got to get more people involved," Mark says.
They know exactly what they'd say, given the chance, to argue for an anti-bullying bill in person.
Stanton says, "If I could tell them that: look at this beautiful child, who we've lost and put that face, think about her when you got to vote and pass it."
You may wonder why anyone would be against a bill to prevent bullies.
Senator Shaughnessy says Senate leadership believes the anti-harassment policy would be used as part of the gay rights agenda.
We called majority floor leader Dan Kelly to hear more about that -- but that call was not returned.
If you want to get involved in getting this legislation passed, below are some links that may be helpful.
I am a concerned citizen about the growing problem of bullying in our schools and on the Internet. This problem is not in just my school district. It is a nationwide epidemic. I was recently made aware of these alarming statistics*:
Youths who are harassed at school are almost three times as likely to carry a weapon to school.
Students who are harassed are more likely to report being part of a gang.
Harassed students were much more likely to report engaging in self-endangering or harmful behaviors, including a dramatic increase in heavy drug use; they are also twice as likely to consider and/or attempt suicide.
*Seattle and King County Department of Public Health in Washington State (Public Health Data Watch, 2002)
Maybe the bill would have a better chance when paired with a name and a face. Rachael Neblett was a victim of bullying at Bullitt East High School in Mount Washington, KY. She was only 17 years old when she died October 9th 2006. She committed suicide after being bullied at school and on the Internet. Rachael's death is still under investigation with the Mount Washington police department.
Please give your support to this bill. Our state needs to take the lead to protect our students by passing House Bill 64 into law!
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