The family of a teenager who took his life last spring is trying to convince schools to adopt a special anti-bullying program. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Devin's Message Foundation was created by the grandfather of the 15-year-old teen.
“The hardest thing for us is going through this. My whole family is just devastated,” declared Joe Smajdor.
Smajdor sat in our WBFO recording studio to share the story of his grandson, Devin Kurzdorfer, a Kenmore West High School student. His wife Deborah joined him, but did not want to speak. She sat nearby listening to her husband and it brought tears to her eyes.
Devin took his life last April. He had high-functioning autism. His grandfather tells us Devin was the constant victim of cyber-bullying.
“We never thought it would get to this point because Devin had so much help. He was going through so much counseling, but when it actually happened – the nightmare that my daughter has every single day, and ‘till this day she still calls my wife up every night crying – and just to see your daughter go through that and how close we were to our grandson,” Smajdor explained.
Devin's parents tried to help their son. He was in counseling and, at one point, they took away his phone. Then finally his mother removed him from school.
“They were going to start homeschooling him and then a few days later is when he took his life,” Smajdor said.
“Sadly the cyberbullying after his death?” Buckley asked. “It did”, replied Smajdor. “Our biggest concern and actually I told the town board at a meeting a couple of months ago was not only that, but it was continuing to go on because I have five other grandchildren in that school system and one of his cousins was still continuing to get this from some of the children or some of the students there, that they were putting the stuff on the internet and as far as we know, the police were involved and brought the parents in and hopefully took care of this, but again, this was going on months after his death. I mean these kids are relentless. It’s got to be stop. I think the parents have to start doing something with their children."
The Kenmore-Tonawanda School district tells WBFO News a student, who was involved in two cyberbullying incidents against Devin, was suspended and also sent to mandatory counseling.
Smajdor created the Devin's Message Foundation. The program is designed for students and parents to education them about how to handle bullying. The foundations mission is to build self-esteem, create awareness of bullying and protect children.
“It’s a six-week program, that maybe 20 to 30-minutes every week, the upper classmen – the juniors or seniors – would go through our program and then they in turn would bring it down to the middle schools – be champions for the program where it’s building resilience, building self-image and showing how children can react when they are bullied – what to do, how to report it, if it is physical. What we are trying to do is really bring it to schools because that’s where they need it the most,” Smajdor explained.
Smajdor tells us he met with the Ken-Ton Schools superintendent in hopes of getting the district to adopt his program. He's also working with other schools in the area.
“We’re in the process of doing follow-ups in the next few weeks because, of course the holidays, a lot of them are not in and a lot of them want to wait until after the first of January, however, there are four school districts that we’ve already talked to. There’s Ken-Ton School District, North Tonawanda School District. I met with Starpoint – the principals over at Starpoint High School and the vice principal there and actually a student at Starpoint brought it to the attention of the assistant principal and then they called us and asked us and asked us to come in. Sweet Home School – I did talk to one of the teacher’s there who I know – as soon as he saw our story he gave me a call. He said it was amazing. He said this is exactly what I need to get to my kids now,” said Smajdor.
Ken-Ton issued a written statement for our story. The District stated incidents that occurred were met with the "appropriate disciplinary action." It states the District is always open to new ideas on how to address the "social-emotional" needs of students. The district noted it has implemented programs behavioral programs in place at the middle and high schools to promote a positive school environment. The district has a Dignity for All Students Act coordinator and has “mechanisms” in place for anonymously reporting bullying.