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An unnecessary loss; Adults must step in sooner to stop bullying

The lingering question of what else could have been done may always follow the family and friends of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer. And there is probably no suitable answer.

In a sad irony, New York's Dignity for All Students Act was signed into law in 2010 under former Gov. David A. Paterson and takes effect on July 1, 2012.

While it can never be clear whether it would have helped in this situation, there are indications that efforts were being made to prevent this tragedy.

Jamey was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

The Williamsville North student was seeing a social worker and therapist and had written about teen suicide prevention. In May, he posted a YouTube video with the description "Jamey From Buffalo, New York telling you, IT GETS BETTER!"

He even put up a post announcing that it was National Suicide Prevention Week on Sept. 8, the same day he wrote that no one at his school cared about preventing suicide, "while you're the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down."

Bullying has reached new depths with the advent of the Internet and a wellspring of social media to follow young people home from the schoolyard.

Gone are the days when bullying stopped at the kid's front door. Now, it's gone viral. And, in the case of Jamey, who wrote online about being bullied between posts about his pop star idol Lady Gaga, the results were deadly.

The taunts against Jamey centered around gay references and showed up about 12 months ago on his Formspring account, which allows anonymous posts. His mother said her son had questioned his sexuality for the last year or so, but that doesn't give anyone cause to torment, tease or bother. But that's exactly what looks to have occurred.

This is a sad scenario that continues to repeat itself too many times across the nation and for various reasons. Last February, Williamsville North honor student Joe Chearmonte killed himself. His parents, Phil and Linda Chearmonte, have been advocates of awareness about depression and suicide.

Arne Duncan, secretary of education, said at a recent summit that the Obama administration had made school bullying a priority and has set up a website, www.stopbullying.gov, along with other measures. New York is joining many states that have anti-bullying, anti-harassment legislation.

One of the strengths of the new state law is that it explicitly talks about sexual orientation, gender or sex, said Amanda B. Nickerson, director of the University at Buffalo's Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence. Because lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or questioning youth are susceptible to being bullied, those students are at greater risk for suicide or depression.

The regulations for the Dignity Act have not yet been implemented and, in the meantime, schools must figure out how to meet the requirements. But the legislation shows that as a state, the issue is being taken seriously.

Williamsville has partnered with other districts to offer a depression and suicide awareness program out of Williamsville South High. A panel presentation will be offered to all parents Oct. 25. And, for both parents and children, the home page for the It Gets Better Project is www.itgetsbetter.org.

Suicide is almost always the result of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, Nickerson said, although there is a correlation between bullying and being depressed and suicidal ideation.

Today's bullying can be anonymous and pervasive, which makes it more dangerous than the behavior many adults remember from their own youths. This should not have happened to Jamey Rodemeyer. Adults have to figure out how to step in before the next teen takes drastic and irreversible measures.

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