KEY LARGO -- The fence outside Key Largo School has been displaying a "No Bullying" sign for all to see.
Sheri Leitch, an eight-year resident of Key Largo, may find that message painfully poignant after her son, Shayne Ijames, 13, hanged himself at his father's Port St. Lucie home May 2.
Ijames had been a KLS student until last August when he moved north to be with his father and enrolled in school at Southport Middle School as a sixth-grader.
"We didn't know he was being bullied. They were calling him 'gay.' He never told us," said Leitch at her son's celebration of life by the water at the Caribbean Club on Sunday afternoon.
Janice Karst, director of communications for St. Lucie County Public Schools, said the district and Southport had received no reports about Ijames being a victim of bullying.
"We have an extremely strong anti-bullying policy as well as an anti-bullying culture," she said.
Ijames' mom says his death was caused by more than just bullying.
"It was an accumulation of pressure with [Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test] and his dad being tough on him. It's not his dad's fault, but I raised him differently," she said. "My son was nothing but a lover. He was so kind to everyone."
The FCAT is a state-legislated standardized test that is not necessarily embraced by educators, Karst said. Schools with higher FCAT scores are awarded with more funding from the state.
Sunday's celebration raised money for an effort to change the use of the FCAT, Leitch said.
"He was laid-back but very brilliant, getting good grades, but the FCAT was difficult for him. Teachers are all teaching for the kids to pass FCAT," she said. "I wouldn't change anything with Shayne. He was amazing. We spent 13 great years together."
She paused as friends came by and hugged her.
"At his funeral -- he had Cherokee Indian blood -- there was an Indian ceremony," she recalled. "They tell me we might ordinarily see an eagle once or twice a year. At his funeral three eagles flew over."