CHESHIRE — A police report released this week references conflict with family, bullying at school and a fight with a classmate in the days and weeks preceding the death of an 11-year-old in December.
Anjelita Estrada, a Doolittle School student, died on Dec. 23. Officials ruled her death a suicide.
Police officers wrote in the report that Estrada fought with a family member in her home immediately before her death. She was found alone in her bedroom 30-40 minutes later unresponsive. Officers found no signs of foul play.
Police interviewed family members, one of whom said Estrada “felt bullied in school because she is Hispanic.” Details of the bullying were not included in the report.
In a separate interview with police, Estrada’s teacher at Doolittle, who lives across the street from the family, told officers she “had reported bullying issues involving Anjelita (as the victim) to the school administration in the weeks etc. prior to her death.”
Estrada and her family moved to Cheshire from New Mexico six months ago. Estrada was unhappy with the relocation, according to her family, and having a difficult time adjusting. Her father Anthony Estrada, who lives in Arizona, told the Record-Journal in an interview that his daughter was called names and bullied because of her ethnicity.
The police report said that Estrada received an in-school suspension for fighting with a classmate. A family member said the fight was with one of the girls who was bullying her.
School Superintendent Jeff Solan said he couldn’t comment on specifics of the case due to privacy laws surrounding students and student discipline.
He said reports of bullying are investigated by the principal or assistant principal at the respective school. School leaders will interview witnesses as well as the students involved.
Administrators then determine consequences or support depending on the situation. Solan said both the perpetrator and the victim could receive intervention but that there was no rigid system for determining consequences.
“It’s more comfortable to have an if-then scenario for discipline. Ninety-nine percent of the times, behavior doesn’t fit neatly into the chart,” he said.
A 2002 law, prompted by the suicide of a Meriden 12-year-old who was bullied, required school districts to adopt bullying policies. The law, significantly amended most recently in 2011, requires detailed “safe school climate” plans and parental notification in instances of bullying, among other provisions. The state definition of bullying requires that a student or group of students repeatedly bully another student.
One-off mean-spirited comments or actions are still investigated by the school, Solan said, but don’t fall under the state’s reporting system.
“If it’s mean-spirited behavior we still want to address it, obviously,” he said. The common definition and the state’s legal definition are often conflated, according to Solan.
According to the state Department of Education, the department received a total of nine complaints of bullying at Doolittle between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years.
The state also requires an annual school climate survey. Solan said the survey is more helpful in determining how to improve school climate than the data based on reporting to the state. The town also does a survey on developmental assets that helps determine where and how youth need support.
“We always want to do better,” Solan said.
The state’s Child Fatality Review Panel reviews all untimely child deaths and chooses some for further investigation. That panel meets next week, when it could vote to conduct a more detailed investigation into Estrada’s death, according to state assistant child advocate Faith Vos Winkel.
“You look to systems implications,” Vos Winkel said Friday. “You look at, ‘Are systems doing what they’re supposed to do?’”
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