Promises to draw guidelines for dealing with bullies

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:56

    HARDYSTON-After maintaining silence during a month of bad publicity in the Sussex County media over stories of unchecked bullying in township schools , a "Shame on You" report on WCBS television finally drew a response from the board of education. The TV story, broadcast last Friday, introduced other parents in the district who corroborated charges of unchecked bullying in township schools brought by residents John and Sue Faber. The Fabers have informed the district of their intent to sue over incidents that they say physically and emotionally traumatized their son, Michael. "There are two sides to every story," interim Superintendent Raymond Nazzaro told about 15 residents who came to Tuesday night's board meeting in the Hardyston Elementary School library. "Be patient," said Board President Marbeth Boffa. "I'm hoping sometime down the line the board will be able to give a clear, ethically correct statement." But sometime won't be soon. Boffa explained that, with the district and the parents of three middle school students notified that they will be sued, they can not talk about incidents publicized by the Fabers. Nazzaro added that confidentiality laws prevent school officials from saying anything about any individual students, further tying the board's hands. The interim superintendent did read a statement to the board that listed perhaps 20 programs the school participates in to combat bullying. "I believe we are doing what is necessary to do," he said. "The Hardyston School District is doing more or as much as any other school I have ever been associated with." He said he had reviewed the school's code of conduct and recommended that a uniform set of administrative guidelines be drawn up and implemented. The guides would give supervisors specific responses to specific acts so that all incidents are treated the equally. He also said the district is resurrecting an anti-bullying committee of parents, teachers and administrators that operated last year but had been dormant this year. Just four residents addressed the situation at the public portion of the meeting. One, Patricia Mellott, said that the schools' anti-bullying and support programs had greatly helped her two children, one in the fourth grade and one in the seventh. The other three wanted to know what the board is doing to counter the black eye their schools have suffered. "Right now, it's a one-sided issue," said Raczynksi, who has a daughter in the third grade. "I have no other opition but to believe what I've read and take it as fact." "I am appalled and outraged as a parent and a taxpayer," said resident and parent Karen McCormack. "We have people looking at our town, saying, ‘Oh, my god, do I wan tto go there?' "We have to do what's necessary to make it right. You can have all the programs you wish, but you must show by example." The Fabers claim their son, Michael, who suffers from a congenital hearing problem, was relentlessly bullied last year, primarily by three fellow students. They finally removed Michael from the school after he suffered a concussion and further hearing loss when his head was slammed in a locker, the Fabers say. The family says that Hardyston Middle School Vice Principal Alex Roney failed to stop a pattern of bullying against their son, advising them that Michael would have to fight his own battles. The Fabers have also pressed charges of assault in juvenile court against two of the three boys they say were involved in the incidents. Now, they are charging that their daughter, Lauren, a fourth-grader in the elementary school, has been unfairly punished because of the lawsuit. "I'm so upset this is happening," Sue Faber said. "Lauren doesn't want to go to school anymore." Faber said her daughter intervened on the school bus when a boy hugged another girl and refused to obey her demands to be let alone. She says Lauren touched the boy on the shoulder to get his attention and told him to stop. "He punched her in the face," Faber said. "And said, ‘I'm going to kill you.'" Faber said Nazzaro, who is also principal of the elementary school, talked to all three children. She said the boy admitted what he'd done, but Lauren was still given an in-school suspension, that the Fabers are fighting. Kim Readmond, who has children in Hardyston schools and who teaches in Lafayette, told The Advertiser-News that a similar incident happened to her fourth-grade daughter. "She was punished with lunch detention for sticking up for a student being bullied by another kid." Another parent, Cookie Lang, said, "This kind of stuff happens all the time." Lang's son, Jeff, was born with a condition in which one of his legs isn't growing at the same rate as the other. He's had several surgeries to break the bone and stretch it with a plate. After the surgeries, he's confined to a wheelchair. Lang said that Jeff was a friend of Michael's, and the same three boys who bullied and injured Michael bullied her son. Echoing charges made by the Fabers, Lang said that when she went to Roney to demand that something be done, the principal said, "Boys will be boys. Your kids have to learn how to deal with it, and if they have to, they'll have to duke it out some day." Lang has since taken her son out of the middle school and placed him in the Sussex County Charter School, where, she said, he's gone from a student who was failing to a solid "B" average. Roney spoke to the Channel 2 "Shame on You" crew, but he was unaware of the purpose of the interview when it began. He has not spoken to any other media. Nazzaro had also been unavailable for comment until Tuesday night. Asked his reaction to the pending lawsuit and avalanche of negative publicity, Nazzaro said, "It's a surprise from the standpoint that we hve addressed every problem we have found, and we continue to address them. All, including those accusing the schools of failing to protect their children, say the problem of bullying isn't unique to Hardyston. "It's not just our school," said Lang, who several years ago offered to raise funds to install surveillance cameras in school buses, another source of trouble. She was rebuffed in that effort. Of the bullying, she said, "It must not continue. It must be stopped, and the people who must stop it are we, the parents."