ANDERSONVILLE — Chicago Public Schools has launched an investigation into allegations that the suicide of a 12-year-old girl came after she was bullied by classmates and a teacher at her North Side elementary school.
The parents of Peirce Elementary School student Mckenzie Phlipot say school officials ignored their family's cries for help about the alleged bullying before she hanged herself on the evening of May 8, a school day. The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office ruled her death a suicide.
Citing neighbor concerns, state Sen. Heather Steans said, "There is going to be an investigation into just what happened ... to make sure there's not a culture that tolerates bullying."
"It's a good idea to have an investigation to understand if there's anything else the school could be doing to make kids safe," said Steans, a neighbor of the girl's family who introduced a resolution in the Illinois Senate last week honoring her.
CPS spokesman Joel Hood confirmed an investigation is underway but declined further comment.
Travis Phlipot, the girl's father, traveled from his Ohio home to meet with neighborhood politicians and parents at the school Thursday, where he passed out fliers to parents telling his daughter's story.
"Does your child feel safe at school?" the flier signed by Phlipot and the girl's mother, Beth Martin, stated. "Mckenzie Phlipot didn't. Mckenzie was picked on, bullied by other students as well as a teacher. Even after her mother complained, the bullying continued. She was shoved, punched and even required emergency room visits after being injured at school. One of her teachers repeatedly singled her out and treated her differently than other students. Her family's cries for help were ignored. Nothing was done."
The flier urged parents of other students to contact them if they had similar experiences, as well as school and CPS officials.
Travis Phlipot declined to elaborate Friday, but said he and the girl's mother want Mckenzie's story told.
The girl's grandmother, Judy Phlipot, criticized CPS.
"They’re not doing anything," she said. "It’s just unbelievable to me."
Before she took her life, Mckenzie Phlipot posted several things on social media about being bullied at school, but did not detail all the incidents referenced in the flier from her parents.
In one post to her Instagram account in December, she wrote, "Like if u hate bullies." A few months later, she wrote, "Look! All the bullies at my school need to stop talking." On the photo, one commenter seemed to defend the practice, saying, "Every body bullies u."
Then, on May 4, four days before Mckenzie's death, she made a final post to her Instagram account.
"If I died, would you cry?" read the text. "Would you wonder if I was happy? Would I be on your mind? Would you ever speak my name again? Would you come to my funeral? Would you miss me? Would you think of me? Would you remember all our inside jokes, the memories we created, even if they weren't that serious?
"Would your heart drop to your stomach when you found out that it was suicide?"
The school at 1423 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. — which enrolls 1,022 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade — held two parent sessions on Thursday, called "Stress Management & Suicide Prevention."
At the evening session, DNAinfo Chicago reporters were asked to leave by Principal Nancy Mendez and a CPS network administrator.
Peirce parent Karen Dreyfuss, an Edgewater resident and education liaison for 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman, said Thursday that she had met with the family and been working with Peirce officials in the aftermath of the the girl's death.
She said even before Thursday, counselors had been to the school and several meetings had been held to help parents deal with their own children's stress. On Wednesday, the school held a session for students on stress management.
"It's on the forefront of everybody's mind," Dreyfuss said.
Another parent said Thursday that his son, a fifth-grader, had been bullied at Peirce at the beginning of the year "for being a new kid" after transferring from a school that was closed last year.
The parent, an Andersonville resident who asked not to be named, said he spoke to his son's teacher and was assured bullying was not tolerated at the school and that the problem would be addressed.
"And then, all the sudden, this," the parent said of Mckenzie's death.
Another parent who declined to be named said, "Of course we're worried."
The Senate resolution last week described Mckenzie as someone who loved nature and playing with cousins on the lakefront. It was presented to her family "as an expression of our deepest sympathy."
An earlier online fundraiser to help pay Mckenzie's funeral and other costs noted the girl was "beautiful, caring and talented. ... Born with an innate sense of adventure, Mckenzie was highly active; as a soccer player, skateboarder, basketball player and bicyclist, she quickly proved to be a natural athlete." She was also a skilled guitar player.
"She loved the outdoors. She loved fishing. She was just learning to hunt with her uncle," Judy Phlipot, the girl's grandmother, said. She said her granddaughter was a frequent visitor and had seen her just a few weeks before her death.
"She was a sweetie," she said. "She showed respect, and she loved her family."
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