FOLSOM, Calif. — On Dec. 10, about 15 community members and Folsom Middle School parents attended one of three meetings held at the school addressing the death of 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu, who took his own life Dec. 3.
According to Folsom Cordova Unified School District Public Information Officer Daniel Thigpen, the meetings served as a way for Folsom Middle School Principal John Bliss, who began his term this school year, to discuss Shimizu’s death with the school’s parents. The media was not permitted to attend the meetings.
“This is an opportunity for (Bliss) to have one-on-one time with families and to have a candid exchange of ideas and to start that process of working together to come up with more solutions (to bullying),” Thigpen said. According to a statement released by Ronin’s parents, Ronin was a target of bullying.
A Folsom parent who attended the meeting, but wished not to be identified, said the meeting began a good discussion of how to address bullying issues in the future.
“There was a lot of discussion about empathy and teaching children to be more accepting so that made me feel good,” she said. “(There was) also talk of zero tolerance, which I think is great, but I also think we need to look at how we assist those children who have some of those challenges with bullying.”
Thigpen said Ronin was enrolled at Folsom Middle School for one trimester before he left to be homeschooled through Folsom Cordova Community Charter School in November 2013. He said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly, that “the district is aware of multiple concerns regarding possible bullying, including possible verbal and physical mistreatment.”
According to a statement released by the National Japanese American Citizens League, Ronin suffered harassment that began in his elementary school years in the form of slurs, name-calling and physical violence.
Ronin’s parents, Brandon and Danielle Shimizu, said in a statement that Ronin was a “compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny” child.
“Ronin was a child who was not afraid to follow his heart, and we as his parents did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions, while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed,” they said.
In addition to art, fashion, being a scout and rowing, Ronin was also passionate about cheerleading. He was a member of the Vista Junior Eagles Cheer Squad until, according to JACL’s statement, he quit because of the harassment he received.
“Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin,” Ronin’s parents said.
According to Thigpen, the school district is investigating the complaints filed by the Shimizus while Ronin was bullied.
“We’re, as a district, going back and reviewing everything we know about this student’s history in the district, including what concerns may have been raised about potential bullying,” he said. “We’re going back, taking a look and making sure there weren’t any missed opportunities or anything else that we could’ve done.”
Furthermore, “the district is reviewing correspondence and school records and interviewing staff in an effort to re-examine how we responded to concerns over possible bullying. Because Ronin was our student for several years, this will be a time-consuming process, and I do not yet have a timeline to provide. Any findings that may be shared will be legally required to protect the confidentiality of all students involved,” Thigpen said in an e-mail.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between 10-24 years old, resulting in approximately 4,600 deaths each year. Each year about 157,000 youths in the United States within the same age range receive medical attention at emergency facilities for self-inflicted injuries.
Florin JACL Civil Rights Co-Chairs Joshua Kaizuka, Fumie Shimada and Andy Noguchi also attended the meeting on Dec. 10. Kaizuka said they attended the meeting in order to learn more about what is being done to address Ronin’s death.
“We hope that the school district as well as the community at large, can look inward to discover how this tragedy happened, what could have been done to prevent it, and what needs to be done so something like this can never happen again,” Kaizuka said in an e-mail interview.
Kaizuka said Ronin’s situation is “extremely troubling and must be addressed.”
According to Thigpen, a Google Bullying Form was added and posted on Folsom Middle School’s Website the week of Dec. 7 as a resource for students to report when they see or experience bullying. School administrators can then use the form to follow-up with the reported issues. Thigpen said Bliss began working on the form a few months ago.
The school’s Website, http://www.fcusd.org/FMS, provides a link to the Sacramento Countywide Bullying Prevention Project page, http://www.
The Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund was created on Dec. 6 by Vista Jr. Eagle’s outgoing Cheer VP Kim D’Agostino on behalf of the Vista Jr. Eagles cheer team in order to help the Shimizus pay for their child’s funeral services. As of Dec. 16, more than $18,000 has been raised from 426 donations. According to the community Facebook page Ronin’s Voice (https://www.facebook.com/
“We had no idea that God and Buddha had a more important role for him, and we as his parents will make it our mission in life to turn this tragedy into something positive and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy,” said the Shimizus in their released statement.
Anti-bullying and suicide prevention resources
• California Department of Education’s Bullying & Hate-Motivated Behavior Prevention resources: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/
• Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center has a list of anti-bullying resources and project partners: http://www.tolerance.org/
Suicide Prevention Resources
• The Jason Foundation works to prevent the “‘Silent Epidemic’ of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/youth workers and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth”: http://jasonfoundation.com; 1-888-881-2323; email@example.com
• Kristin Brooks Hope Center, a nonprofit organization, focuses on sucide prevention, awareness and education. Its resources include crisis hotlines (1-800-442-HOPE), online crisis chat (http://hopeline.com/
• National Association of School Psychologists: http://www.nasponline.org/