MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota mother says her 15-year-old son killed himself after months of being bullied and assaulted, and that school staff didn't do enough to support the boy, who had mental health issues and learning disabilities.
Faith Elsharkawy said she can't be certain that her son Jacob LeTourneau-Elsharkawy, who was a freshman at Chisago Lakes High School, was bullied because her family is Muslim, but she notes the bullying began when he was in 8th grade, after she started wearing a hijab.
She is certain the bullying led Jacob to hang himself on April 29.
"There's no doubt in my mind that (bullying) caused it," she said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations' state chapter on Tuesday alleged that Jacob was bullied because of his faith and called on the state and federal Departments of Education to investigate. The group's executive director, Jaylani Hussein, said the family is exploring legal options, including possibly suing the school for negligence.
The school district disputes the group's claims.
"CAIR-Minnesota has publicly alleged that a student who committed suicide was bullied because of his faith and that the bullying resulted in concussions and contusions. These inflammatory and offensive allegations are untrue," Superintendent Dean Jennissen said in a statement. He said the district couldn't comment on specific students, but that the district investigates any allegation of bullying and takes action when it's verified.
Elsharkawy, who is white, said she and her two children converted to Islam after she married an Egyptian man. She said the family moved to the Taylors Falls area a few years ago and didn't outwardly express their Muslim faith at first as they tried to fit in.
She said the bullying began when Jacob was in 8th grade. She said he was assaulted twice that year, including once when he was pushed into a metal door frame and suffered a fractured collarbone. She said the students involved in each assault were suspended.
Jennissen said he wasn't aware of an incident involving a broken bone and he couldn't confirm whether students were suspended. He said the district has repeatedly offered to meet with the family to discuss their concerns and get more information.
Elsharkawy said the bullying continued in high school, culminating in a November assault on a school bus in which Jacob suffered multiple contusions and a head injury. Jacob, who struggled with anxiety, ADHD and learning disabilities, began having panic attacks after the assault and was afraid to go to school, his mother said.
Elsharkawy said that at one point, an administrator told the family Jacob was being picked on because he was "different." He was on an individualized education program, meant to accommodate his needs, but Elsharkawy claims he was being wrongly penalized for what she said were minor infractions. Jennissen couldn't comment on that claim.
Elsharkawy said the bullying, fear and lack of support was just too much for her son.
"He couldn't take it," she said. "I tried everything in my power to get it to change at the school, but I guess one voice just wasn't enough. I want changes to be made ... to protect other students."
Among those changes, Elsharkawy said schools must have zero tolerance for bullying and teachers and staff need to follow individualized plans for students with special needs, who often can't advocate for themselves.