"I never feared for my children's safety as I do now. Of course my daughters could give you a better example of the things they deal with daily and I know they are willing to do so. All we want is change for all the voiceless."
That is how one parent [Pat*] described the situation while contacting Sachem Patch to announce the launch of a Facebook page entitled "Bullied at Sachem." The page is an aggregation of district-wide complaints and stories from both parents and victims intended to "get the message out to the Sachem community about the major bullying problem we currently have in the Sachem Schools." To date, the page has 71 likes, and a number of people have contributed their stories to the site.
Pat has two daughters at North she claims are being systematically singled out and bullied by classmates with little or no help from the school. Last Friday, police were called to the North campus after a boy at the school shoved one of the daughters. This is the second time police were called for an incident that involved this particular junior at North.
The first was after a scuffle broke out in the cafeteria. According to Pat, three girls and one boy joined in the assault. District officials showed Pat video of the attack.
"I had to watch the whole thing on the security cameras at Sachem," Pat stated in an email "It was horrible. They had no security in the cafe'." Pat went on to acknowledge that the assailants were disciplined for their part in the fight, but further incidents of bullying eventually led to a recommendation from school officials that Pat's daughters switch to the East high school, Pat claimed.
When contacted, North Principal John Dolan could not comment on the specific incident, but stated on record that switching schools is never an answer to the bullying problem.
"It doesn't help to move people around," Dolan said. "We want to keep them in their school. We've got multiple tools to handle these issues. Teachers do a lot. So do coaches."
Dolan said there is a procedure in place, known around the office as P.P.S., which stands for Pupil Personnel Services. Under PPS, the administration, when it becomes aware of an issue, becomes a triage to other departments. An investigation is launched into the incident. Other administrators, social workers, teachers and guidance counselors join to resolve bullying issues. In some cases it leads to disciplinary actions such as detention and suspension. In others, the matter is handled by PPS, where the team decides what's best.
Dolan also said that as much as possible teachers are asked to stand in the doorway between periods, and that security guards routinely patrol the halls. In addition, he stated that the senior Mentor Club has been highly effective in teaching incoming freshman the hidden curriculum, the subtleties of high school life not written down in books, but very much a part of the school culture. The Mentor Club also helps news students get acclimated and earn some friends immediately, which can be crucial to staving off bullying incidents.
"Every kid that comes into the office you have to treat as if it's the first time," Dolan said. "You can't get complacent. Any child who is upset, that rings the bell for me. And now it's just a matter of finding a solution."
In Pat's case, after last Friday's incident, Pat called police. Dolan said that if there's a dispute between two students, the school can't call the police: charges have to be pressed by those involved or the parents.
Last summer New York State instituted the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which requires much more reporting on the part of teachers and administrators when it comes to incidents of bullying.
"DASA is good for those coming into the profession," Dolan said. "It reminds you that we should treat everybody with respect, and it puts us on notice that everyone deserves to be heard."
Most recently Pat stated on "Bullied at Sachem," that there was a meeting between Mr. Dolan and some of the parents of the students allegedly bullying Pat's daughters. But the page will continue to be updated to compile incidents at Sachem.
"Look if anybody's not happy at North, that's my fault, Dolan said. "It's nobody else's fault, but you gotta let me know, so I can get a chance to fix it."
*Editor's Note: "Pat" is a psuedonym. The parent asked not to be identified for this story.