Lakeshia Chaney is suing East Central ISD and one of her professors. She said they had a hand in the death of her son, Jeffery Taylor, in December 2019.
SAN ANTONIO — The mother of a first-grader who committed suicide two years ago is suing the East Central Independent School District.
Jeffery Taylor was not on campus at the time of his death. However, Lakeshia Chaney thinks what happened to him at school may have been the reason he took his own life at home four days before Christmas in 2019.
“I saw my baby lying there, like he normally is,” Chaney said. “But when I looked left, I saw my gun.”
Chaney spoke exclusively with KENS 5 Eyewitness News in May 2020 about the events surrounding her son’s death. On the advice of her lawyers, Blerim Elmazi and Bredric Berry, they now speak for her.
The Dallas and Houston-based attorneys said the allegations in this case have touched them and shocked their consciences. They said other attorneys had turned down Chaney, who thought civil remedies were too difficult to pursue.
“Someone had to defend Jeffery,” Elmazi said. “Spotlight on this school district and its policies.”
A tragic discovery
Chaney said his son, Jeffery, found his gun hidden in a Bible holster under his bed at their home in the 6300 block of Channel View in San Antonio.
She and her husband, Jermaine, said they accepted responsibility for the 7-year-old boy who found his gun. The couple said they never shared details of gun ownership with their children.
In the May interview, Chaney said his son told him school kids called him a racial slur and bullied him. She claims her teacher ignored her son’s outcry, which contributed to his death.
“I was screaming. I kept saying, ‘Jeffery, why? ‘” Chaney said. “I told you to hold on. I was going to take care of it.
The lawsuit filed in federal court for the Western District of Texas alleges racial discrimination and failure to instruct a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“The school district (officials) knew that Jeffrey had been diagnosed with ADHD,” Elmazi said. “They, of course, failed to adapt to that through their actions.”
The lawsuit said Jeffery was the only black student in his class and became the target of persistent bullying. The lawsuit alleges his teacher never reported the events as required by school policy.
The document states that his teacher even separated him from the rest of the students, limiting his ability to learn.
“He was very adamant that he didn’t want to go back to school. He begged…He begged me that day,” Chaney said. “Please don’t fire me. I said, ‘I’m not. “”
Jeffery’s ‘life was taken…unjustly’
Before she could address the issue, Jeffery committed suicide in his bedroom either on the night of December 20 or in the early hours of December 21.
San Antonio police called the shooting a tragic accident and chose not to press charges against the parents.
According to an autopsy performed by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, there were no witnesses to Jeffery’s death.
The report concluded that the barrel of the gun was near the child’s head, but was not held against his skin when fired. Death investigators concluded that Jeffery’s death was an accident with no clear evidence of foul play or suicide.
His mother said her son’s words are proof of that.
“The evidence itself will speak to the fact that the life was taken,” Berry said. “She was taken wrongfully as a result of the district’s negligence and as a result of the actions of the teacher.”
Berry said Jeffery was a boy and not an expert in handling a firearm. They believe the first year student was at a level of trauma that became suicidal. His mother sought answers from the school system.
Different stories of bullying
KENS 5 obtained records from East Central ISD through a public records request made by 11 Alive of WXIA-TV, our sister station TEGNA in Atlanta.
Documents reveal that on Jan. 8, the day after Jeffery’s funeral, the principal of Salado Elementary School sent a letter to Chaney saying an investigation found no racial slurs or harsh slurs toward his son. The principal’s investigation included students who sat near Jeffery and played with him during recess.
She also spoke with cafeteria monitors, other teachers and a physical education coach. None could validate the claims.
They found Jeffery and one of his friends disagreeing with the exclusivity of the friendship, which resulted in a seat mismatch on the bus.
The documents also revealed that a classmate’s parent was allegedly bullied by Jeffery against her daughter. Her child, according to the document, said her teacher sent the child away saying, “Don’t gossip to me.”
The records also show a parent-teacher conference sheet asking Chaney to talk about his son’s authority and encouraging him to be nice to his other classmates.
“Anyone who claims their child was bullied in this case, their child is still alive,” Berry said. “In this situation, this young man committed suicide, and he took his own life because the bullying and racial harassment made him so outraged that he couldn’t take it anymore.”
School district reaction
Documents also indicate that Chaney was not the only parent who had a problem with East Central ISD’s handling of bullying and harassment. There are dozens of grievances whose outcome is unknown because East Central does not discuss them.
Also in the documents is a letter to the top brass of the system from the parent of a child who was a school friend of Jeffery. She wrote to the District in January 2020 because she was concerned about how she and her husband were going to explain “…he would never see Jeffery again.”
According to the letter, before the parents could strategize, their child learned of Jeffery’s death “…from another 6-year-old.”
“I asked a school employee if a memorial was going to be held in honor of Jeffery. Her answer was no, because it would cause chaos among the students. I asked her if Jeffery’s parents had their say, and his answer was no,” the parent said. wrote.
ECIDD wrote to the relative just as they were responding to KENS 5 about Jeffery’s death. Superintendent Roland Toscano has written about offering counseling services to parents.
East Central ISD Statement
In a statement to Eyewitness News’ initial report in May, the district said it had provided significant support to Jeffery’s friends and classmates. Here is the full statement:
“East Central ISD deeply mourns the loss of Jeffery Taylor. He was a brilliant and appreciated student and we are still, to this day, in shock and disbelief at this tragedy. Our tight-knit community is filled with love, grief and remembrance for Jeffery and his family. We continue to express our deepest condolences to his family, and our community is united in our compassion for healing and strength.
We are saddened to learn of the allegations, as any form of bullying, harassment, or violence is taken seriously and follows state law, council policy, and district procedures. The district conducted a thorough investigation of numerous teachers, staff members and classmates to determine if bullying had occurred. The investigation did not produce any information to substantiate the allegations. The findings of the investigation were in a letter sent to the family on January 8, 2020.
We further investigated the allegations at three levels: Salado Elementary, Student Services, and Superintendent. Not all investigations have substantiated the allegations.
About a little over a month before the incident happened in 2019, Jeffery’s teacher had a regular conference with the mother. Bullying was never mentioned at the parent conference. No reports or complaints were ever filed or brought to the attention of the teacher, the school, or the Jeffery district office.
East Central ISD provides ongoing training to its staff regarding the prevention and identification of bullying. Jeffery’s teacher had taken this training before the incident.
After Jeffery’s death, East Central ISD repeatedly offered counseling and bereavement services to the Taylor family. The district also provided significant support to Jeffery’s friends and classmates.
East Central ISD is proudly united in its commitment to inclusion and diversity. Our schools participate in bullying prevention classes each October and offer many student and community events regarding inclusion. Our East Central Police Department has an active presence on campuses daily and promotes “see something, say something” as part of Operation Safe Schools. Our Equity Committee and Task Force continue to be proactive in assessing whether our system protocols and procedures continue to be fair and inclusive.
East Central ISD once again expresses its deepest condolences and continues to be a source of support and healing.”
KENS 5 is looking for details
In December, KENS 5 asked for documents, letters, emails or text messages to show the district council effort, a copy of all letters sent home to parents regarding Jeffery’s death and the number of staff and students who have taken advantage of counseling resources.
Additionally, KENS 5 requested an interview with the superintendent. Here is the district’s response:
“We do not have documentation responding to your requests. Communications regarding this tragedy and the services and assistance provided by the school were made in person or by telephone. We also refuse the interview request.”
From the existing Public Records Request, there is an email from the Executive Director of Student and Community Services at ECISD, four days after the parents’ letter of concern, stating “…We have received negative comments from another parent about our response to the situation. We need to regroup tomorrow and write a letter to the parents, maybe. I’ll call you.
According to system documents, an ECISD social worker sent Chaney a resource guide on support and guidance during her bereavement.
The school district filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. No date has been set to determine whether a judge will allow Chaney to seek reparations she believes are owed for her son’s death.
Special Series: A Different Cry
Jeffery Taylor’s story is included in “A Different Cry,” a digital series that focuses on the rising black youth suicide rate in America. The series will premiere on our Roku and Fire TV streaming apps on Sunday, January 23. Then on Tuesday, February 1 at 6:30 p.m., we will be broadcasting a 30-minute special on our streaming apps. Download the KENS 5 app on your Roku or Amazon Fire TV device today.