CHICAGO (CBS) -- A 15-year-old boy named Nate Bronstein was enrolled at one of the most prestigious private schools in Chicago and had a promising future — that is, until his parents say he became a victim of relentless cyberbullying by his classmates.
Nate took his own life.
And in an exclusive interview with CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey, his parents allege that the Latin School of Chicago could have done more to stop it.
Rose and Robert Bronstein never fathomed that they'd be speaking about their son, Nate in the past tense.
"I still can't process it," said Rose Bronstein.
"He definitely wanted to go to a college that had big time sports," said Robert Bronstein. "He loved to make people laugh, and laugh himself."
And of the school, Rose added, "It's a toxic culture – so toxic that we lost our son from it."
The Bronsteins' 10th-grader was a super-sharp, funny kid; A pillar in their family of five. He was a new transfer last fall to the Latin School of Chicago, at 59 W. North Blvd. in the Gold Coast.
But he was bullied by his classmates to the point that he didn't want to live to see his future.
"It had been kept from us, so that's why we were completely, completely taken off guard when this happened," said Robert Bronstein.
The Bronsteins had concerns about their son adjusting to a new school — and according to a 68-page lawsuit just filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, they raised those concerns repeatedly with administrators.
But according to the filing, they had no idea about the extent of the cyberbullying that tormented Nate.
But the Bronsteins say Latin did.
"Our son would still be alive today if Latin would have done their job and reported to us what had gone on within the school," said Rose Bronstein.
The Bronsteins say they were never told that on Dec. 13, 2021, Nate asked for a meeting with his dean of students to report that several students were bullying him via a text message thread provided to CBS 2, and on Snapchat.
One of those Snapchats, according to the lawsuit, encouraged Nate to kill himself. Another used a phrase that's understood to be an indirect death threat.
The dean listened, but took no disciplinary action, according to the filing.
And exactly one month later, Nate's father found him hanging from a shower in the bathroom in their home. A noose was tied around his neck.
Again, he was just 15.
"We would have known, and we would have protected him, and he'd still be here today," said Rose Bronstein.
It wasn't until after Nate died that the family was made aware of the texts, the Snapchats, the taunting — from another parent at Latin. And that's a problem — a legal one in the State of Illinois.
Illinois General Assembly Public Act 098-0669 requires that every school in the state, including private schools, have an anti-bullying policy.
That policy must include information about how bullying should be reported and how it is to be investigated, and also that bullying incidents must be reported to the parents of those involved.
"When there's an alleged incident of bullying, they are supposed to notify the parents of both parties involved," said Vitto Mendez, one of the leading experts in the country on state anti-bullying laws and their effectiveness.
Vitto Mendez confirmed that school administrators in the state of Illinois are legally obligated to report incidents of bullying to the family members of those involved.
Anna DiPronio Mendez is the executive director of the National Association of People Against Bullying, and she can speak to why notification is so important. Her son Daniel's school knew about his bullying, but she was never notified until after he took his own life in 2009.
He was just 16.
"It's one of my biggest regrets that I've lived with to this day is why was I not contacted? Why was I not told?" she said.
In the weeks and months following Nate's death, students, parents, and even a current employee of the school reached out to tell the family they were not alone in their concerns about an alleged cover-up culture at Latin.
You don't have to look much farther than Instagram to see public testimonials to that effect.
The Survivors of Latin Instagram account was a public account with close to 3,000 followers. According to the creator, the 121 pages' worth of stories involve "anti-Blackness, xenophobia, racism, classism, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny."
The Instagram page was taken down as of Monday night, but a Survivors of Latin Facebook page remained in place.
"Look, our son was 15, and his perception of what he can and can't handle isn't necessarily accurate – but that's why the policies exist, and that's why, now, the law exists – to involve parents," said Robert Bronstein. "The school has to err on the side of a lot of transparency,"
To be clear, the family isn't suing Latin for the money. They've pledged to donate any money gained through legal proceedings to anti-bullying and anti-suicide charities. They say they're speaking out because remaining silent would disrespect their son's memory.
"You can't allow this to go on, because it's going to happen to another child," said Robert Bronstein.
The Bronsteins never got to watch their son grow up. But they hope they might give other parents the chance to step in.
"We need transparency into what they did and didn't do while he was a student there, and after the fact," said Robert Bronstein, "because if this can be allowed to just be swept under the rug, then it's going to happen again — and we're not going to be complicit in that."
We reached out to the Latin School with several questions upon the filing of the lawsuit. The school issued the following statement late Monday:
"Our school community deeply grieves the tragic and untimely passing of one its students. It is a loss that impacts our whole community. Our hearts go out to the family, and we wish them healing and peace. With respect to their lawsuit, however, the allegations of wrongdoing by the school officials are inaccurate and misplaced. The school's faculty and staff are compassionate people who put students' interests first, as they did in this instance. While we are not, at this time, going to comment on any specific allegation in this difficult matter, the school will vigorously defend itself, its faculty and its staff against these unfounded claims."
If you or someone you know is concerned about suicide, you can contact the 24/7, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or go here to online chat. More helpful resources can be found here.
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