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Nottoway mom claims son committed suicide due to bullying | Superintendent speaks following claims

A Nottoway County mother is coming forward now to share her son’s story after seeing the rising number of alleged bullying incidents at the school her son once
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 6:11 PM EDT
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NOTTOWAY COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A Nottoway mother is now considering legal options following the death of her transgender son.

Brittany Brockenbrough claims endless bullying at Nottoway Middle School is what led her son, Jessie, to take his own life last year. Brockenbrough said she is coming forward now to share her son’s story after seeing the rising number of alleged bullying incidents at the school her son once attended.

A recorded heartbeat is all that Brockenbrough has left of her son Jessie.

“For 15 seconds at a time, my baby lives again,” she said. “And it really, really sucks.”

Jessie took his own life one month to the day after his 14th birthday in 2021.

“He ended up taking some over-the-counter medication... and it destroyed his brain,” Brockenbrough said.

Brockenbrough said she managed to talk to Jessie before the medication took full effect.

“He told me point blank the reason why he took the pills was because he couldn’t endure it any longer; he couldn’t endure what was going on at school,” she added.

Jessie came out as non-binary at the end of 6th grade before identifying as trans-masculine.

Jessie Brockenbrough's mother says her son committed suicide one month to the day after his...
Jessie Brockenbrough's mother says her son committed suicide one month to the day after his 14th birthday.(NBC12)

“We were immediately accepting of him, letting him know whatever his gender identity or sexual orientation was, he was loved and supported,” Brockenbrough said.

However, Brockenbrough said that support did not carry forward at school.

“He was threatened, he was taunted, he was misgendered, and dead named,” she added. “It was very hard on him.”

According to Jessie’s mom, she had conversations with administrators multiple times. Some accommodations were made due to certain situations.

“A group of boys were waiting for him in the bathroom,” Brockenbrough said. “As soon as he saw them, he turned around and left. That’s when the administration said he could only use one bathroom, and that was the one up by the office that was for staff only.”

However, Brockenbrough said the bullying continued, and it only happened after Jessie came out.

“There was so much hatred and negativity and intolerance that he withdrew,” she added.

“We make sure that we have an environment where all our students feel welcome,” said Nottoway County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tameshia Grimes. “Where they are in a place where they are able to be themselves. We strive to have each student recognized as the student he or she is.”

In April, Dr. Tameshia Grimes sat down with NBC12 in a rare on-camera interview. Along with a public relations specialist in the room, a variety of questions about the environment inside Nottoway Middle School - including whether bullying was a problem.

“We do not speak specifically about situations with students,” Grimes said.

Dr. Grimes added it is due to confidentiality reasons involving students who are minors.

However, in the last few months, several families have come forward during the school board public comment period to address concerns.

In January, one mother spoke with NBC12 anonymously about a reported incident from October involving her son.

“This wasn’t just a simple someone got in a tussle; you child got popped in the mouth, we’re going to suspend so and so and so and so for five days,” the mother said. “This was an assault, a sexual assault; the board should have been notified.”

In recent weeks, her son also spoke up at the school board meeting.

“Why do you and Mr. Outlaw continue to publicly say what happened to me did not happen; it happened,” the boy said.

In January, Dr. Grimes confirmed an investigation into the alleged assault alongside the sheriff’s office.

While the mother of that alleged victim said the suspect was convicted, neither the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Sheriff, or Superintendent would confirm that conviction.

“We always have to respect confidentiality of our students,” Grimes said. “It would not be wise or prudent or fair to our community, our students, our parents to start talking about specific incidents that occur.”

Per the Nottoway County Public Schools (NCPS) Student Handbook, the Superintendent is required by the Code of Virginia to report incidents - including sexual assaults - to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

That information is available online. A spokesman for VDOE said data from 2021-2022 will not be available until after the school year ends. However, there are reports from previous years at Nottoway Middle School:

INCIDENTS2017-20182018-20192019-20202020-2021 *students learned
virtual/hybrid due to pandemic
Assault/Battery11
Fighting725301
Threats/Verbal/Physical331
Sexual Offenses335
Bullying2

“The safety of our students is, my gosh, that’s like the most important... yes, we’re here to educate, but quite frankly, if students don’t feel safe, they’re not going to focus on their learning,” Grimes said.

In March, the school system held an annual safety forum for families. Dr. Grimes encouraged students to come forward with any uncomfortable situations they may encounter.

“The only way to know what they know is to tell,” she said. “Once a student tells, I’m confident that every adult in Nottoway County Public Schools will take the appropriate steps to reach out to the students, the parent to get the information and then to do what’s necessary for that student to feel supported while he or she is here.”

However, Brockenbrough said she finds that hard to believe. The mother is coming forward now worried about other transgender students and the boy who said he was sexually assaulted.

“This poor child is at a greater likelihood of self-harm, suicide, PTSD, things like that - I can’t stand silently anymore,” she said. “My son’s life mattered, that child’s safety mattered, and neither one of them were valued by this school system at all.”

Meanwhile, Nottoway parents do have access to a “Bullying Prevention and Intervention” incident reporting form online. Anyone who believes a student may be dealing with a bullying situation is urged to contact administrators by phone or email.

The link to the form can be found here.

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