My Letter to West Irondequoit BOE and Administration

Two years later

I am back here after the long journey I believed to be over.

Much to our dismay, events have transpired which have prompted us to remove our son from his school.

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to the entire West Irondequoit Board of Education, Superintendent Jeff Crane, a local reporter (Linda Quinlan at the Irondequoit Post) & many other relevant district members. Names and a bit of personal information have been removed to protect privacy. 

Sadly, my letter has not been the only one to be sent out, as my child is not alone. Nick’s name is left here because I have talked about his story before —

LETTER FOLLOWS:

I would like to would like to introduce you all to my son, Nick.

Nicholas is 10 years old. He’s in the fifth grade at XXX in the West Irondequoit Central School District. He is funny, charming, a bit quirky, both very respectful and well-respected. He is an avid reader and a chess player. He enjoys doing math problems in his spare time and reading the comics, even though he doesn’t typically pick up on humor because he interprets words very literally. Nick has Aspergers.

Nick has a thirst for knowledge and truly loves to learn. He is an old soul. At times, it seems he is like a little old man trapped in a little boy’s body. He is a remarkable young man. I know that all parents think that about their children, but if you have had the pleasure of encountering Nick, you would agree.

At around 10:30 in the morning on Tuesday, October 22, I received a phone call from a deeply concerned principal, {PRINICIPAL 1}. Before I move forward and forget to mention this, I have to tell you that I believe with all of my heart and mother’s intuition that {PRINICIPAL 1} TRULY cares about the children in his care, and that he truly cares about my son. I can see that in his eyes when we speak and I can hear it in his voice when he calls from school.

{PRINICIPAL 1} informed me that Nick had been punched in the face, in the eye, by a sixth grade student. The boy walked right up to Nick while he was at his locker and punched him. He committed this act of assault with teachers, students, and the principal in viewing range. Nick did not even have a chance to defend himself–not that he should have to at school.

This boy, with a complete disregard for authority, respect, and human decency, assaulted my child at school on a hallway full of witnesses. We did file a report that afternoon with Officer Nichols at the Irondequoit Police Department to be sure the incident is on record.

The incident started in chorus. Nick is a member of the 5th and 6th grade chorus at XXX. He loves music and singing. The child who assaulted him was two people over from him on the top risers. The boy (who we now know is named STUDENT A) said “Fuck you”, “You better shut your bitch hole or else your asshole is going to be whooped”, and sang the words, “Nick is a fucking bitch, fucking ass, and fucking jerk” to the tune of the song “Conjunction Junction” which was being sung at the time.

After doing this, Nick asked TEACHER A to use the restroom and walked by, asking her quietly if he could please talk to her at the end of rehearsal.

He was frightened and very upset by this student. At dismissal from chorus, TEACHER A asked Nick to stay for a moment since he had wanted to speak with her. STUDENT A told Nick, “You better not tell on me or you are going to be sorry.”

STUDENT A left and Nick told TEACHER A what had happened. Nick did not know STUDENT A’s name at the time, as they hadn’t met. Nick found out from another student (who heard what was going on and was afraid to speak up) that the student’s name was STUDENT A and he told TEACHER A.

After leaving chorus, Nick walked to his locker and was unpacking his bag.

STUDENT A walked up to Nick and asked in a threatening tone, “Did you tell TEACHER A?”

Nick answered truthfully and said, “Yes.”

Immediately following, STUDENT A punched Nick in his face, hitting his glasses.

Nick has a mark by his nose, a small bruise on the eyebrow, and his glasses are broken. The lens popped out and a screw is missing from the side.

Nick started to cry because of the pain. He could not see and he heard {PRINICIPAL 1’s} voice telling {STUDENT A} to go with him. Nick said his eyes were still closed, but he heard another student, {STUDENT B} asking {PRINICIPAL 1} if he could walk Nick to the nurse.

While walking, Nick encountered {TEACHER B}, his Social Studies teacher, who walked him the rest of the way to the nurse.

Nick sat in a chair in the school nurse’s office, was checked out, and then {SCHOOL COUNSELOR} came down to check on him and discuss the incident. Nick laid down and {SCHOOL COUNSELOR} popped the lens back in his glasses so he could see again. Nick rested for about 30 minutes and went to his math class because he was worried about missing work.

I picked Nick up to come home immediately following my return from a doctor’s appointment in Bushnell’s Basin. He recounted everything that happened and is frightened. He does not want to return.

This incident is bad enough in itself. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident.

Nick has been pushed on the stairs, shoved into a locker, and verbally taunted.

As many of you are aware, in October 2011, Nicholas suffered a concussion as a result of bullying and nothing was done because of the circumstances. Emails expressing concerns about one student, {STUDENT C}, had been sent to both {TEACHER 3} and {TEACHER 4} during 2nd and third grade.

On this particular day in 2011, {STUDENT C} knocked Nick down at recess. The recess aide gave the child 5 minutes of time out as a punishment.

When time out was done, the child went after Nick once again. Fearing for his safety, Nick attempted to run away from {STUDENT C}, and in doing so, struck his head on the metal ladder leading to the monkey bars.

Because {STUDENT C} did not physically push Nick’s head (that time) into the ladder, he had no consequences even though Nick was trying to prevent being hurt for the second time in one recess period. Nick fell unconscious. He was seen at RGH in the pediatric emergency room, and diagnosed with a concussion.

After that incident, we attempted to come to some sort of resolution by talking to the boy’s parents, {ELEM SCHOOL COUNSELOR}, {TEACHER 4}, and {FORMER ELEM PRINCIPAL}. Unfortunately, nothing was done. I contacted {SUPERINTENDENT}. I understand that the school just wanted me to go away and stop fighting for my child. That is quite clear. I believed things would change–that this was an isolated type of incident.

I was very wrong.

Things were fine in {Teacher 5’s} class last year. There was quite a bit of supervision and Nick did not have anyone physically hurt him in 4th grade.

Fifth grade has been a different story.

Nick was pushed on the stairs by a boy named XXX and I reported it to {SCHOOL COUNSELOR}. The day after I reported that, I received a call from {PRINCIPAL} to let me know that a boy named YYY had pushed Nick into a locker. When Nick is very nervous or anxious, he repeats words or bites his lip (or nails). He was muttering the word “meep” over and over again. Apparently, this bothered YYY and instead of asking him to be quiet, he resorted to physical shoving. At that point, Nick was extremely nervous about school. He was scared to be in the hallways.

One of the measures that had been put into place was that there would be more adults in the hallways when there were transitions since these events were occurring during times that are typically unstructured. We told Nick is would be OK–that it would be safe. He had faith in us. He believed that our word as parents meant something. He believed that the adults at school could keep him safe.

Tuesday’s assault proves that Nick is not safe at XXX Middle School. This incident took place with faculty, staff, and {PRINCIPAL} in the hallway. If Nick can be bullied with these measures in place, there are no measures that can be implemented to guarantee his safety.

Again, I wish I could even say that these events are isolated. We know this is not true. A fellow 5th grader who lives right on our street was bullied during 4th grade. She kept being bullied. She was bullied in after school care (again, by STUDENT C) while at XXX Elem. She was bullied over and over last year. Her mother had no choice but to pull her from the district a few weeks back. She is now in a safe environment.

We know of a sweet girl in Nick’s karate. She was a kindergarten student at XXX Elem. in the West Irondequoit School District and repeatedly bullied by a boy in her class. Instead of getting to the root of the problem and addressing the boy who had been physically hurting her, the victim has to be moved to XXX Elem.

This punishes the victim. It is a pattern.

These are just instances of people we know right in our tight-knit little circle. There must be many others.

I have met with{PRINCIPAL}. He is the epitome of what a principal should be. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe he will exhaust every effort and avenue to keep his students safe and happy.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done to make our son feel safe. I am a mom, first and foremost. I love my children with all of my heart. I have a younger son in {TEACHER 6’s} third grade class.

We moved here from the Park Avenue area of the city, which we happened to love. Knowing the reputation of the city schools, we moved here when Nick was a baby because we believed West Irondequoit schools were worth the extra taxes so we could give our children a safe environment with a fabulous reputation. We honestly believed that this would be best. It is not. It has not been.

I ask all of you, what will you do to ensure that my child is safe? That my other son will be kept safe? That the other West Irondequoit students are safe?

The Dignity for All Students Act, as you know, addresses bullying.

Here is what it says:

“Bullying has been described by the U.S. Department of Education as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, bullying generally involves the following characteristics:

An Imbalance of Power: Children who bully use their power, such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity, to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

The Intent to Cause Harm: The person bullying has a goal to cause harm.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors generally happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Examples of bullying include, but are not limited to:

Verbal: Name-calling, teasing, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threatening to cause harm.

Social: Spreading rumors about someone, excluding others on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, and embarrassing someone in public.

Physical: Hitting, punching, shoving, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things and making mean or rude hand gestures.”

1. My child was verbally bullied in chorus by {STUDENT 1}. He was threatened. {STUDENT 1} attempted to use threats and intimidation to control Nick into not speaking up about what had happened in chorus.

2. {STUDENT 1} CLEARLY intended to cause Nick harm when he walked up to him and punch him.

3. Bullying behavior has happened more than once and with this act being done in the presence of authority figures, has the potential to happen more than once.

4. Nick was verbally bullied. He was physically bullied.

My son is supposed to be protected by the Dignity Act:

“The Dignity Act protects all New York State public school students from discrimination and harassment by students and/or employees on school property or at a school function, not just students who are the subject of discrimination or harassment based on their actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression), or sex.”

The West Irondequoit Central School District has a duty to provide my son with a safe environment:

“Once an allegation or report of bullying is made, the school district or BOCES has a responsibility to take appropriate action, which includes investigation and taking necessary steps to protect those involved. All districts and BOCES must adopt and enforce a code of conduct for the maintenance of order on school property and at school functions. The code of conduct must govern the conduct of students, teachers, other school employees and visitors and must include the procedures to be followed in such situations (Education Law §2801[2] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][i]).

It should be noted that charter schools are also required to include in their disciplinary rules and procedures, pursuant to Education Law §2851(2)(h) and, or, if applicable, in their codes of conduct, provisions to comply with the requirements of the Dignity Act (see also, Education Law §§10-18 and 8 NYCRR §119.6). The charter school’s disciplinary rules and procedures, or, if applicable, its code of conduct must also include the procedures to be followed in such situations.”

Most of you are parents yourselves. Would you in good conscience be able to place your child back into an environment where he has been assaulted right in front of the adults who are there to protect him?

I cannot. I love my son. I fear for his safety. I cannot get the image out of my head. We live across the street from XXX Middle School. To know that I was at home sipping a mug of coffee while my child was punched in the eye at his locker without anyone being able to protect him is not something I can or will forget.

I want to know what the West Irondequoit School District will do to address not just the district-wide bullying issue, but I want to know what you will do specifically to make sure that my son is able to have a safe, quality education?

After Nick’s concussion in 2011, I stopped pressing. I believed the problem would be remedied. I made a mistake by trusting that Nick would not be bullied again. I will not be silenced this time and I will do everything that I can to protect my child and keep him safe.

{STUDENT 1} gets to return to school once his suspension ends. Life will go on for him. Chances are, he will find someone else to pick on who is smaller and weaker than he is. For Nick, though, and the others bullying victims, the scars are long-lasting. This is a real issue. What will it take for the district to really pay attention? Will it take a child who has lost all hope taking his or her own life? Quite frankly, as a mom, that is my biggest fear.

I know that people will not be happy with me for contacting so many with Nick’s story–but his story needs to be heard. The children who have been left no choice but to change schools or move need to be heard, too.

What will you do to protect my son? To protect the other victims?

Karley Ziegler Mott