In a pretty thorough article in last Sunday’s paper (“Cruel Hoax?”, 3/18/2001), Al Sullivan explored “unsubstantiated rumors that a middle school student has threatened to kill an athlete on March 8.” Through the course of the article, we get perspectives from Secaucus Middle School officials, the school board attorney, the Hudson County prosecutor’s office, the police chief, “other sources in Town Hall,” the superintendent of schools, the police captain, a board candidate and parents. ALL of them address the one issue — chain of command and handling of the threat — yet dance around the other issue, stated pretty clearly in the fourth paragraph of the news article: “a boy who had been frequently picked on by other students had threatened one of the middle school’s athletes.”
So I have eight multi-part questions about that other issue, and anyone in the school system, or interviewed for that article, or at Town Hall, is welcome to answer them for me and for all of us whose tax dollars go to pay for the school system:
1. Why is the Secaucus school system fostering an environment that allows any one individual to be “frequently picked on”?
2. What does “frequently picked on” mean? Is this boy called names? Does he sit alone at lunch? Does he get slammed into lockers? Does he get his books taken from him? Is he short? Weak? Does “frequently picked on” mean weekly? Daily? Hourly? Is he picked on by more than one student? Female as well as male students?
3. How many “concerned Secaucus parents” read that article, gathered their kids together last Sunday night, and got a clear reply from each of them to these two questions: “Do you know anyone at school who is picked on?” then, if yes, “Tell me who that is, and what happens to him or her.” Then “Is there anyone at school who you pick on? If so, do you (a) call them names, (b) threaten them, (c)physically harass them?”
4. How many parents who took the time to ask those questions and got a “yes” in reply to the last one made it clear to their kids that they should IMMEDIATELY lay off?
5. If a school employee (teacher or otherwise) sees a kid being picked on in school, is the teacher or school staff member legally required to report it, or to intervene? Does intervention mean physically separating the students, saying “Stop that right now!” – or does it mean turning a blind eye or simply saying, “Take it outside”?
6. If it’s an athlete who is harassing one or more students, have Secaucus’ athletes been told that they would be removed from playing for their team if the athlete does not figure out a way to have a “live and let live” attitude with all other students? Is this part of the school’s code of conduct? Do the coaches and gym teachers keep their students in line?
7. How many of the kids reading this letter think it’s cool to pick on another classmate? How many students see a situation like that and try to stop it by saying, “Hey – lay off him (or her).”?
8. Do any of the teachers get free materials about teaching tolerance from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Alabama? How are students taught to be tolerant of others at school? Are students taught to be tolerant of others at school?
It’s fine to determine a chain of command for any real or perceived threat of any student. With all the problems that have occurred in other schools, no student should be allowed to threaten to kill another student. Though everyone involved concluded that the rumor was unsubstantiated, new articles and issues will appear next week in the Hudson Reporter – while some kid is still being “frequently picked on” in the Secaucus school system.
Every Secaucus parent concerned about the security of their children at school should be asking who this kid is and what is happening to him. Moreover, they should be insisting that the school do whatever it has to do to ensure that each of our students get what they are legally entitled to – a good education in an environment free of harassment and intolerance. The town or school board certainly does not need a lawsuit coming from someone who claims the school has not met its legal obligation. The “warning signs” that lead to situations like Columbine have been placed before us by the Hudson Reporter. What is each of us doing to prevent that from happening here? Face it — you never know when someone who experiences daily harassment is going to suddenly pull out a gun…