Elite New Jersey boarding school admits failure to halt bullying that led to student suicide
LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. - This story may contain details that are disturbing. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
A New Jersey private school on Monday said it fell "tragically short" of "expectations" to ensure the safety and wellbeing of a student who died by suicide a year ago Sunday.
Jack Reid, 17, died in a dorm on campus, which is situated just outside of Trenton, on April 30, 2022, after he endured "bullying and other forms of cruel behavior" at the boarding and day school, The Lawrenceville School said in a Monday statement.
"Lawrenceville’s top priority is the physical, social, and emotional health, safety, and wellbeing of our students. We recognize that in Jack’s case, we fell tragically short of these expectations," the school's statement read. "Jack was a victim of bullying and other forms of cruel behavior at Lawrenceville over the course of a year, including in the form of false rumors in person and online."
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The school added that when those "behaviors were brought to the attention of the School, there were steps that the School should in hindsight have taken but did not, including the fact that the School did not make a public or private statement that it investigated and found rumors about Jack that were untrue."
Reid's parents, Elizabeth and William Reid, described their son in a statement to Fox News Digital as "a happy and well-adjusted teenager with a strong support system that included his friends and devoted family."
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"He loved his school and his community, and treated others with kindness and respect. He had a bright future. We hope no other family suffers such a profound loss," they said.
The Reids told The New York Times that their son's school experience started off well until an unfounded rumor that he was a rapist began to spread around campus by the spring of 2021.
Elizabeth and Bill Reid told The New York Times that their son's school experience started off well until an unfounded rumor that he was a rapist began to spread around campus by the spring of 2021. (Google Maps)
When he returned to school after summer break in September 2021, the rumor persisted, despite the fact that Reid was elected to be president of his dorm called the Dickinson House. His parents believe the election made some of his peers bitter, and they continued to spread the rumor further, they told the Times.
The rumor was posted to a social media app popular among boarding school students days after Reid was voted president of the dorm, and Reid said the bullying continued to spread quickly online. The 17-year-old received a rape whistle and a book about how to make friends as a Secret Santa gift that year, his parents told the Times.
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"Dad, will this ever go away?" William Reid recalled his son asking. "Will it ever get off the website?"
William Reid told the Times that he and his wife think bullying "is much more devastating to kids," especially when compounded with the "echo chamber of the internet and everybody knowing. In his son's case, he said, the bullying "produced a very impulsive act."
"He had to escape the pain from the humiliation he was feeling," William Reid told the newspaper.
The Lawrenceville School hired an outside law firm to investigate Reid's death.
The Lawrenceville School hired an outside law firm to investigate Jack Reid's death. (Google Maps)
On April 30, the day Reid died by suicide, a student who was disciplined for bullying Reid was expelled for violating school rules in an unrelated incident. Lawrenceville "allowed him to return to Dickinson House largely unsupervised where students gathered, including some who said harsh words about Jack," the school said in its statement negotiated as part of a settlement with the Reid family, the Times reported.
"School administrators did not notify or check on Jack. That night, Jack took his life, telling a friend that he could not go through this again," the statement continued. "The School acknowledges that bullying and unkind behavior, and actions taken or not taken by the School, likely contributed to Jack’s death."
The school has since made efforts to improve training and educational programs, House culture and healthy socializing, disciplinary protocols and general health and wellness. It will also contract with a school bullying specialist, contribute to the Jack Reid Foundation established by his family to help prevent bullying, hire a Dean of Campus Wellbeing and take other steps to prevent a similar tragedy in the future, according to Lawrenceville's statement.
"And we believe that if this could happen to our son, it could happen to anyone’s," the Reids said. "The damaging effects of bullying and cyberbullying need to be taken more seriously. Jack’s school has acknowledged that there are steps it should in hindsight have taken in response to the bullying, and that it will implement a comprehensive plan to combat bullying on campus."
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The U.S. suicide rate increased in 2021 after two consecutive years of declines in 2019 and 2020, especially among communities "disproportionately affected" by the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic "compound preexisting inequities in suicide risk," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Reid Foundation, which aims to "create a model to address this urgent crisis and save children’s lives," is accepting donations.
Audrey Conklin is a digital reporter for Fox News Digital and FOX Business. Email tips to email@example.com or on Twitter at @audpants.