Karis Anne Ross, a transgender teacher at German Immersion School, committed suicide last November after being extensively bullied by her co-workers. Now, her mother, Jill Greinke, is seeking answers from the school.
“I’m still not over her death by any means, so it hurts,” Greinke said, according to CBS 58. “She was my hero. She was extremely authentic.”
Ross, who transitioned from man to woman, had been bullied her entire life. In November, 2014, Ross decided it was simply too much for her to bare, and she took her own life, leaving behind a suicide note stating that the bullying had been going on for nearly 10 years.
“There were people named [in the note],” Greinke said. “Before her transition she was being bullied. After her transition she was being bullied.”
— Cathy Brennan (@BadhbhCatha) June 14, 2015
According to Karis’ family members and friends, she had spoken to the principal on more than one occasion, voicing her concern over her co-workers constant bullying.
“I don’t blame MPS for my daughter’s death,” Greinke said. “I believe the sad thing it that important things were missed. The goal is for this to never happen to anybody again. So that things are taken seriously for all human beings.”
“The way it was handled is disappointing,” added Karis’ friend Madeline Dietrich. “That it seemed to be more covered up than shared.”
— Omooba Femi (@iamOmooba) June 15, 2015
Dietrich hopes to bring awareness to bullying and the “critical importance of recognizing when it occurs and intervening when possible.” She penned an open letter to MPS superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, seeking a call to action.
Read the letter in it’s entirety below:
“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
AOP Fellow, UW-Milwaukee Class of 2013″
The school was questioned about Karis’ claims of bullying. Their response: “Ms. Ross was a longtime member of the Milwaukee German Immersion School staff whose presence is still missed.”
[Photo via Shutterstock]