Two vigils for 12-year-old Hser Ner Moo were held in Atlanta on Tuesday.
(CNN) – The death of a Utah girl who was fatally attacked by classmates, leaving her blind, has prompted a new wave of outrage over bullying and other violence in schools and created a nationwide conversation on the treatment of students of color.
In meetings with both elected officials and the media, Mia Phan’s friends, family and teachers said they were shocked by the violent way their sixth-grader died, even as, as CNN recently reported, teachers called her a “rude, rude little brat” and disciplined her repeatedly for the taunting she endured from other girls.
Mia Phan had called police at least once to say that a classmate was hitting her in the face, an incident that left her with a large cut on her lip. But police never took her report seriously, as someone at the school told CNN affiliate KSL.
The girl who allegedly killed Mia Phan was a classmate of Mia’s at Wheeler Middle School in Sandy, Utah. The Sandy, Utah, teen was taken into custody at a relative’s home hours after Mia Phan was attacked and died in the hospital, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. She is now charged with aggravated murder in juvenile court.
Mia Phan’s family made national headlines in late February when the 13-year-old boy who allegedly helped pull the prank received a one-day detention and was back at school Tuesday, police said.
The incident raises questions about what may have occurred as the sixth-grader received counseling and therapy from school officials for her social issues and bullying, friends and family said.
“The school knows about her problems and they don’t do nothing,” said Evangeline Nghia Phan, Mia Phan’s aunt. “I want the schools to do something to help her. They should say, ‘Havain, we will help you; we will fix this problem.’”
The tragedy has evoked outrage. A coalition of civil rights groups, including NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, has accused schools of failing to address race-based harassment by students of color and for leaving bullying incidents unreported, unreported and unreported.
“Schools cannot expect to move beyond their culture and institutional responsibilities if they are unwilling to address systemic racial hostility,” said Gregory Lee, head of the Utah chapter of the NAACP.
The US Department of Education, as well as the Department of Justice, has added bullying cases to its enforcement of school segregation laws and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, according to the NAACP, which encourages parents to report “hardly an incident of discrimination” in schools.
In Utah, Mia Phan’s death has sparked a new push to establish a state law requiring schools to develop and follow anti-bullying and harassment plans.
“Kids and their families are failing to do it by themselves because there’s no consequence for bullying,” said Polly Neate, of the anti-bullying nonprofit BullyCop, which organized the vigils. “The level of bullying at this school was very extreme and blatant.”
Youth violence and violent deaths in schools and among teenagers has recently come to light in dozens of stories from schools and law enforcement. Of particular interest is an increase in the number of violent deaths that involve teens ages 15 to 19.
Contributing to that trend is the fact that teenagers today take more violent risks and are more likely to use guns in shootings and mass killings, experts say.
During the peak of bullying in 2010, there were 25.7 school-related youth suicides per 100,000 kids, or roughly double the rate from the 1990s, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis. The analysis did not specify why there was an increase, but it indicates that children and teenagers are more likely to think about suicide in the wake of bullying.
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