Bullied Transgender Teacher Takes Her Own Life

In 2014, Karis Anne Ross, a transgender woman and special education teacher at Milwaukee German Immersion School, committed suicide. She left a note — it revealed that she had endured a decade of bullying from colleagues and neglect from supervisors to whom she had reached out for help. An open letter to Milwaukee Public School superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, written by Madeline Dietrich, Ms. Ross' colleague, is attempting to bring light to Ms. Ross's legacy as an exceptional teacher and to galvanize progress in the wake of her death. "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," Ms. Dietrich wrote. The letter points to individuals by whose actions Ms. Ross felt abused; the three "paraprofessional" aides stationed in Ms. Ross' classroom and the school principal, Dr. Albert Brugger, who allegedly took little to no action in response to Ms. Ross' complaints. Ms. Dietrich explains that, "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." Apparently, Dr. Brugger also neglected to inform the school community of Ms. Ross' death; instead, news reached her colleagues when a family member arrived to collect Ms. Ross' belongings. In an email regarding the claims made in Ms. Dietrich's letter, Tony Tagliavia, Media Manager for the Department of Community Engagement for Milwaukee Public Schools, told us, "The district is opposed to and prohibits bullying of any kind as our policy clearly states. Ms. Ross was a long-time member of the Milwaukee German Immersion School staff whose presence is still missed." In a conversation with us, Ms. Dietrich said that she has received criticism for citing race as one of the issues that led to Ms. Ross' being bullied (Ms. Ross was white; the three aides were black). Ms. Dietrich stands by her decision to include the detail, stating, "We should all be aware of the differences we all have. We’re not all just women or just men or just Republicans or just Democrats. We cannot be afraid to talk about this."

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