Report: Transgender teacher commits suicide after bullying complaints allegedly ignored for years

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MILWAUKEE — The family of a transgender woman says the school she taught at ignored bullying complaints for more than 10 years, largely contributing to her suicide.

CBS 58 reports German Immersion School teacher Karis Anne Ross committed suicide late in 2014. Her parents now say that consistent workplace bullying is to blame, and her suicide note can even point at people specifically responsible for inaction.

“There were people named,” Ross’ mother Jill Greinke said. “Before her transition she was being bullied. After her transition she was being bullied.”

Ross often voiced her concerns of bullying to the school’s principal, CBS 58 reports, but her complaints were allegedly ignored.

“The way it was handled is disappointing,” Madeline Dietrick, a friend, told CBS 58. “That it seemed to be more covered up than shared.”

Milwaukee Public Schools largely declined to comment on the issue. Ross’ family has sent an open letter to MPS superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver.  The letter reads:

OPEN LETTER TO THE SUPERINTENDENT OF MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Dear Dr. Driver,

As the spring semester draws to a close and another class prepares for graduation, I wish to call to your attention to an oversight, a failure to act, by Milwaukee Public School administrators, which undoubtedly contributed to the suicide death of one of Milwaukee Public Schools’ best and brightest teachers this past school year. While the blame for her death cannot be fully placed on the Milwaukee Public School District, it is my opinion that if key personnel had responded appropriately, this teacher may have chosen to continue living.

Karis Anne Ross, who taught at MPS’s prestigious Milwaukee German Immersion School, took her own life over the Thanksgiving holiday last November. She was thirty-seven years old. Ms. Ross was the schools’ lead Special Education teacher, a stressful job by any account, but made unnecessarily more stressful by a hostile work environment fraught with tension, disrespect and bullying, not from her students, but from the teacher’s aides assigned to assist her.

There were four professionals working in Ms. Ross’ classroom, a lead teacher and three teacher’s aids. Each were human beings, and each were women. But three were cisgender, while only one was transgender. Three were black, while only one was white. Three were paraprofessionals charged with supporting the lead teacher’s direction, while only one held a master’s degree and professional teaching certificate. The differences in race, education status and gender identity fostered an environment where Ms. Ross was regularly subjected to intimidation and resistance by the majority group.

Ms. Ross repeatedly informed the building principal, Dr. Albert J. Brugger. It had gone on for years, but in the weeks leading to the moment Ms. Ross chose to end her life, numerous emails were exchanged between Ms. Ross, school officials and the medical community, all pointing to a crisis which went largely ignored by Dr. Brugger, who rather than mediating or intervening in the conflict, chose to play down the situation and avoided any direct involvement with Ms. Ross and her aids. It is clear by the timing of the suicide, which took place the Saturday afternoon before Ms. Ross knew she must again face the hostility of her support staff and the indifference of her principal the following Monday morning. Each aide was named in Ms. Ross’ suicide letter, along with Dr. Brugger, as the primary cause of her grief. Transgender people are too often rejected by friends, employers, landlords, and family, and are forty percent more likely to attempt suicide than the mean population. Ms. Ross was rejected by the very MPS employees whose job it was to assist her in caring for profoundly disabled children.

Adding insult to injury, MPS made no attempt to contact Ms. Ross’ family for nearly two weeks. Dr. Brugger sent flowers and a card, but made no official announcement to MGIS faculty and staff, who only learned of the suicide from Ms. Ross’ uncle when he arrived to collect her personal belongings.

Friends and family gathered this past Sunday to celebrate the life of a cherished individual who touched the lives of so many. We were gladdened by the presence of fifteen MGIS faculty and staff members who attended the memorial service, and we are grateful for their concern.

And so Dr. Driver, I wish you the best in your future as the leader of a major metropolitan school district. It is my hope that you will move forward with a renewed awareness of the grave responsibilities held by public schools in our society, not only in teaching our students, but in setting an example for our population through modeling tolerance for individual diversity and empathy for the plight of our neighbors. As Ms. Ross so eloquently put it in closing her suicide letter, “Love to everyone, even the rotten apples.”

Sincerely,

Madeline Dietrich, MM/MLIS

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37 comments

    • mojo08

      Your lack of compassion and knowledge are abysmal. Transsexuality is not a “mental illness,” indeed, it is your ignorant view of it as such, writ large, that causes so much self hate among such individuals to begin with. Why not take some responsibility for the fear and shame your OWN ignorance cause other people?

      • Richard

        Amen ! But remember, Bigots are IGNORANT by nature …. or they wouldn’t be Bigots … personally, I think we should keep a few in the zoo for research and export the rest away from humanity – Chow !

  • Danny Rafael

    So the letter hints the bullying and intimidation were because she was transgender, but reality is she was bullied before the switch of gender identity. Isn’t the truth that she was bullied because of race and that her pleas for help fell on death ears of a superintendent protecting her own.

  • VoiceOfReason

    It (s/he) dealt with this for 10 years and then blames the school district? Take some accountability. Get some counseling, get a new job. Do something. If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got. My hunch is there were much deeper mental issues here than bullying, race or anything else.

    • Tiffany

      Get a new job? Wtf!! I think the mental issues belonged to the a-holes treating another human being like dirt, don’t you?

      • VoiceOfReason

        Perhaps. But if i’s not better after a period of time I’m certainly not going to stick around for 10 years until I’m suicidal and blame someone else when I kill myself. Seems like common sense. Life has never been fair and I can’t control what others do. I can certainly take my own destiny my hands and make changes.
        There’s clearly underlying issue that has nothing to do with bullying. Possibly all the hormones they were on to try and change their sex.

        • JDH

          First, “voiceofreason” – laughable moniker. Second, based on what you said, one could use the most vile racist language at work and that would be up to the receiver to deal with it. That’s idiotic. There are rules in the workplace and it is up to management to uphold those rules. I would be very shocked if that school district doesn’t have a policy against discrimination and creating a hostile workplace. I suppose women who get raped should “suck it up” since it was probably their fault for wearing the wrong thing. Moron.

          • VoiceOfReason

            JDH: You’re missing my point and making quite a leap. People should be held accountable for what they do. In the case of rape and the use of “vile racist language” it’s easy to prove and do something about.

            In most cases it’s much more subtle difficult to prove. As someone that has been through this at work I’m quite familiar with emotional strain and difficulties the situation creates.

            I didn’t say it was fair to have to search for a new job, it’s not, but the reality is life is rarely fair and we sometimes end up on the losing side.

            My point was it would be a much better choice to take on the challenge of finding a new job than sticking around and driving yourself to suicide.

            The transgender debate aside, this person had bigger issues than being bullied at work and now wants to blame someone else for their choices.

    • Réverénd Kate Sjostrand

      Couple of things:
      .
      1. Using “it” as your pronoun choice is dehumanizing, mean-spirited, and just plain wrong.
      .
      2. Get a new job? Transgender people have a difficult time finding gainful employment, so switching jobs isn’t as easy as you assert. Furthermore, the idea that transgender people should accommodate institutional unease rather than the other way around is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
      .

      • VoiceOfReason

        Fair enough but jobless is better than dead.

        Nobody should have to tolerate institutional unease, inappropriate advances, being looked over for a promotion because you’re female, crappy bosses that practice favoritism or are so clueless they don’t know what’s going on and blame their employees to save themselves. I could go on.

        Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect word and MOST people do have to deal with this in some form at some point. You have two options: you can try and fix it and if you have a great company that may work, or you can get out.

        I don’t know this person but in my experience these folks aren’t wanting normal treatment, they want special treatment. They’re perpetual victims and it’s everyone else’s fault. I realize this is a stereotype and not 100% accurate. It is 100% accurate for those I’ve met.

        • Réverénd Kate Sjostrand

          PS: How is wanting to be treated fairly in the workplace asking for “special treatment”? How is asking for equality in healthcare administration “special treatment”? And regarding the “perpetual victimization” bit, has it ever occurred to you that perhaps it’s because the transgender community experiences extreme amounts of discrimination in almost every facet of their lives, and that perhaps that leads to skepticism about the origins of behaviors/actions?

          • VoiceOfReason

            It does occur to me that they face discrimination and probably have a right to feel some skepticism. However someone’s past is not the companies fault or problem. They’re hiring people to get a job done not create drama and distractions in the workplace. The black women in the story certainly had a right to some skepticism based their past as well. Honestly most people could claim they have a right to some skepticism but the world has to go on.

            Special treatment is expecting the employer/employees to be extra sensitive around them and not hold them accountable when they miss deliverables because we “owe” them for how the world has treated them previously. It’s the expectation they’re entitled to make excuses for their actions/performance or lack thereof.

            Again, I don’t know any of the details in this case and it may not apply. From the sound of the letter I’m interpreting a sense of entitlement and lack of accountability that leads me to believe it could be the case.

  • junior

    Ultimately, who treated a human being the worst here? It was the boy that grew up and hated himself so much he attempted to become a she. Even then, when the hatred got so bad he committed suicide. It’s too bad there aren’t signs of this mental illness so we could attempt to treat these individuals filled with self-hate. “Transgender people are… …forty percent more likely to attempt suicide than the mean population.” Hey, I think I see a pattern here, maybe someone should do something besides celebrating the mentally ill?

    • Cindy Russell

      They tried to treat it before and then someone decided it wasn’t “PC” to treat mentally ill people differently, unless you can use their mental illness to further your political career (see Sandy Hook elementary and Obama).

      • mojo08

        Transsexualism isn’t a “mental illness” any more than being gay is. It is your own stigmatizing ignorance, undoubtedly shared by the “aides” harassing her, which led to this tragedy. It’s never to late to learn something and trying to develop a more compassionate perspective.

        • Ryan

          And that’s where you are wrong. Gay IS a mental illness. Any condition that threatens to prevent the normal continuation of a species is a DEFECT, Cerebral palsy is another example. It is a deviation from the normal continuation of a species. You and the media can argue all you want. You can shove these concepts down everyone’s throat, but it will never change the facts. I really couldn’t care if the whole world went gay. This whole world has gone insane, and really doesn’t deserve another generation.

    • mojo08

      Your lack of compassion and knowledge are abysmal. Transsexuality is not a “mental illness,” indeed, it is your ignorant view of it as such, writ large, that causes so much self hate among such individuals to begin with. Why not take some responsibility for the fear and shame your OWN ignorance cause other people?

      • junior

        Nice attempt to drown out discussion with one voice, (yours), repeated three times on here saying the same thing. And no, I had absolutely nothing to do with this teacher’s desire to hate themselves, a hatred which probably manifested in their preteen years. But likely has roots even younger than that. A bullying, unpredictable and rageful father is an all too common predictor of boys growing up with self-hate and gender or sexual confusion. But you wanna whitewash that all away and say it’s the straight folks who call a spade a spade that is the cause?

        Well ok then, but if we go with your one-size-fits-all explanation for their not-a-mental-illness illness… you simple ignore an astronomical suicide rate — one that remains in spite of a cultural shift towards celebrating their sickness. If a child grows up full of doubt, hate, rage and confusion and you blindly throw celebration into the mix without understanding, YOU are now the one who continues to promote mutilation and suicide. Meanwhile their suicide rate, self-harm activities, and risky lifestyle choices continue, all so you can continue to sleep good at night knowing you’ve been politically correct for one more day. Blame it on the straight folks! It would be worthy of an ‘lol’ except there is another generation of confused children emerging and all your PC crap offers is celebration for a mental disorder that was never their fault. Meanwhile, real solutions and options to not live a life of confusion and hatred are available.

        • Cris

          I agree with Mojo 100%. What do you suppose we do to help transgender children. Clearly you do not want to accept them. WHAT IS YOUR SOLUTION, MORON.

          • junior

            Your “acceptance” brings with it an astronomical suicide rate
            (one that actually increases even further when they fully embrace their choice and mutilate their bodies surgically). Yet, you tell me I should be celebrating and happy for their increased likelihood of suicide? Read the cases, read the personal stories, listen to them. “Acceptance” is almost always something they have been looking for since a very young age. The problem is the way they have learned to interpret their world will never allow them to truly feel acceptance. Hence, the mental disorder. Ask them, if they are willing to open up with you, they will tell you they didn’t feel acceptance long before making decisions on gender or sexual orientation. Learning a new way to interpret their world is a start. Or never mind and choice to continue to celebrate their suicides, (I do not –they are human being and deserve to know what true acceptance feels like).

          • VoiceOfReason

            Where to we draw the line between mental illness and acceptable behavior? If I want to cut myself, have multiple spouses or engage in sexual activity with a minor is it OK for me to say “this is what I feel is right so everyone should accept me and my behavior”?.

            If I’m bi-polar, schizophrenic etc. and prone to harm myself or others society is going to step in and “help” me with medication, counseling and potentially involuntary confinement.

            In my opinion, someone who chooses to mutilate their bodies surgically, as you put it, and change their sex falls into this category. While I’m not a psychiatrist it seems the high suicide rates points more to the fact there are serious underlying mental issues that need addressing. Just my opinion and I may be proven wrong but I don’t think every time someone has a feeling we should protect it and grant them “special” status.
            Suicide is tragic and I don’t support it for anyone. My hope is folks are seeking help and not giving up until they find what works for them. It won’t likely be the first thing you try so keep at it.

  • KCP

    I find it interesting that commenters with no experience or credible knowledge of transgender are perfectly willing to judge and denigrate us.

    I get that they don’t understand us, why would they? They are (apparently) happy in their cis-gender normativity because they are simply never challenged by being cis.

    But really it’s not a matter of understanding, it’s a matter of being. We don’t understand how we became transgender anymore than they understand how they became cis, we just know that we are.

    How does our existence threaten them? Their bullying can lead to despair, suicide, or murder. What kind of person is that cruel?

    Cis people:
    If you’re a cis-man or a cis-woman, how do you know that? Whatever your answer is, it’s the same for us.
    How do we threaten you?
    Why do you say such horrible things to us?
    Can you understand for yourself what your motive is?

    Kate

    • Matt

      It is because people are hateful and ignorant. Transgendered people are easy targets because they are viewed as ‘different’. But even cis-gendered people get bullied for a variety of reasons.

      I’m sorry that people say horrible things to you. I hope that your questions help to enlighten someone, but if you are looking for answers to your questions then long story short: stupid people are stupid.

      As a cis-gendered man, I accept and support that you have no choice in what you identify as. Even if I had female genitalia, I would still feel like a man.

      Matt

      • VoiceOfReason

        I personally have no issues with transgender folks. Diversity is what makes the world a beautiful place. I do have problem with hypocrisy and bullying. These people wanted to be accepted for their beliefs and have their rights but they bully some mom and pop shop because of their beliefs. Respect others rights and beliefs and you’ll have a much better chance of others respecting yours.

  • Richard

    The Ignorant Bigots can’t tee off on African Americans any longer …. Even the Gay & Lesbian crowd put you in your place …. so, the last group you can openly sprew hatred at is the Transgender Community …. But make no mistake, The Transgender Community will have their Rights also, and we will be in your HR Depts – We will be suing you …. we will be pushing for prosecutions under the Hate Crimes Statutes and we will not be treated openly like trash without using every tool available to us to take down those who deliver such Bigotry – and here is a little piece of News … we won’t all commit Suicide – as a matter of fact … some us enjoy the fight, Bigots have lost every battle and they will lose this one also – We have the power of Commerce – Commerce drives Politics … The Gay crowd beat you with economics – we will beat you the same way …. and unlike the Billy the 6 Pack Crowd who barks this garbage – we are educated – Lawyers, Doctors, Finance … we are not going anywhere –

    • VoiceOfReason

      Great attitude. Beat, sue and fight your way into peoples hearts. Not everyone is a bigot. There are a lot of compassionate people that lack understanding but are turned off to the cause by attitudes like this. Go on your war path but I think you’ll find it works against you.