The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a Westfield parent, whose name Patch is withholding to protect the identity of her child.
I never thought I would be the kind of person that would feel the need to share a personal story with the reading public. But, I have gone through such a remarkable experience within my school system that I think it needs to be shared.
Bullying dominates the news headlines these days. This story comes from your town and I want to share it with all of you who care to read on.
In March of 2013, a phone message was left on our family answering machine for anyone in the family to retrieve. Lucky for me, I was the one who heard it. It was a young voice talking about being gay and raping and killing my children. One of my children was named in the message. I immediately reported the call to the police and I phoned the principle of my children’s elementary school to inform him of the threat.
Precautions were taken by the police and school to keep extra eyes on my kids at school. We had no idea where the call had come from because the phone number had been blocked and had to be traced by the police.
It took 34 days to find out who had placed the harassing and threatening message to my family. It turned out to be 2 fourth graders in my child’s grade. Upon hearing the names, I called the superintendent because I wanted her to hear the message before making a decision on the punishments for the children. She declined to meet with me. So, I met with the principal, who is also the anti-bullying coordinator for our district, to discuss what the punishments would be for the children who had made the call. He informed me what the punishments were and I felt that punishments were not inline with the act of violence. I asked if I could file under the anti-bullying act. The principal/anti- bullying coordinator said no because that would mean interviewing all the kids involved.
I left his office, obviously unsatisfied, but overwhelmed by the whole situation. When I got home and had a chance to think more clearly and refer to the anti-bullying law , I felt I had every right to ask again. So I requested once again to have the act filed under the anti-bullying law. The principal told me that I would be contacted on how to move forward. Instead of receiving directions on how to move forward, I received an email from the principal advising me that I was not allowed to file because we had an open criminal investigation going on. I then sent a link to the anti-bullying act highlighting the part where it states that both investigations can go on concurrently. I heard nothing back from the principal or the superintendent. So I contacted Governor Christie’s office just to make sure I was reading the law correctly. I spoke with an aid in the Education Department who advised me that not only was I correct and had every right to file under the harassment, intimidation and bullying law, but he was going to get the State Department of Education involved to call my school and make sure things were being done correctly! This was amazing.
I received an email from the school a few days after my phone call to the Governor’s office informing me that the investigation would happen. So now I think all will be well...don’t think so.
After interviewing the children, the school concluded that the phone call didn’t fall under the harassment, intimidation and bullying law because one of the kids denied everything and the other kid had gotten a lawyer to write a letter to say he couldn’t be questioned!
So my husband and I filed an appeal and went to the Board of Education to state our case. Where in the law does it say that a child has to admit to being a bully for the act to be bullying??? It doesn’t state that. How can a child merely get a lawyer to get him/ her out of questioning and therefore can’t be held responsible? If that’s the case, I will tell all my friends, don’t worry if your kid is a bully, you can just hire a lawyer to write a letter making them exempt from questioning and there will be no consequences.
It’s a joke! The whole process is a joke. The fact that the Board of Education’s legal advisor tried to tell me that I couldn’t file an action under this law is a violation of my rights. The fact that these administrators let this investigation be such a botched job is a joke. Who are they protecting? Certainly not the victims in this incident.
If your child is involved in a bullying situation and you're the victim...you have rights. Read the law, call your Governor, get the schools to do the right thing! AND if your child happens to be the Bully...well, it seems to me, the school is on your side.