Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. For Richard and Christine Taras, this bad dream became a horrible reality. Even worse, their son Jacobe’s death likely could have been prevented. Now, they are taking steps to help other parents avoid the heartache they are living with.
A Secret Learned Too Late
Thirteen-year-old Jacobe was a middle schooler who played soccer and was a Boy Scout. He was also the frequent victim of bullies. The bullying was so devastating that Jacobe took his own life. His parents believe if they had known what was happening, they might have been able to save their son.
In 2015, Christine went out briefly to run some errands. According to New York’s WNBC, when she returned home, she discovered her son’s lifeless body along with a note.
“Dear Mom and Dad,” Jacobe had written, “I’m sorry but I can not live anymore. I just can’t deal with all the bullies, being called gay … being told to go kill myself. I’m also done with being pushed, punched, tripped.”
The note was signed, “I LOVE YOU.”
Richard and Christine were unaware of the abuse their son had endured.
“We had no idea of the extent or the seriousness of what was going on,” Richard Taras told WNBC. “Some of the things that were going on — physical contact, throwing books in the shower — this was a pattern. And they tried to say, ‘It’s no big deal, boys being boys.’”
They believe his school was aware of what was happening. They also believe that if his educators had notified them, Jacobe might still be alive.
“They knew,” Christine told the Albany Times Union. “Everybody knew the bullying was going on. But it’s like, ‘Oh, they’re just being kids.’ That’s the school’s attitude. No. We’re sending our kids to school thinking they’re gonna be safe but it’s no longer a place to learn, it’s a place to fear.”
Richard and Christine filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jacobe’s school district. Although the jury did find the district negligent, they determined the negligence did not contribute to Jacobe’s pain, suffering or death.
However, the Tarases say the suit was never about money.
“If we become the brick and the mud that someone gets to step on to walk through the door to give our children a voice in the school, that’s what we did,” Christine told Albany’s WTEN-TV. “Jacobe’s voice was heard. And believe me, there will be changes in that school system.”
The family is fighting to see a law passed with the help of New York State Sen. James Tedisco. Currently, the state law requires schools to report bullying incidents to the state education department. However, schools are not required to alert parents when their child is bullied (or believed to be bullying another child). You can see the Tarases, along with Tedisco, talking about Jacobe’s Law in the video below.
The new law would make it mandatory for schools in New York to notify parents. Although the Senate has passed it twice, the state assembly has not moved on Jacobe’s Law. This is largely due to concerns of students’ privacy rights, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.
The Tarases say the law would allow protections for kids who are not out at home.
Current Bullying Laws
Although 49 states have anti-bullying legislation, there is no federal anti-bullying law.
The following states have legislation regarding notification of parents when bullying occurs at school.