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.”
Madeline Dietrich, MM/MLIS