OSWEGO, NY – Some parents’ concerns regarding a potential juvenile sexual abuser spilled over into Tuesday night’s Oswego School Board meeting. A couple other parents, however, said the whole thing was being blown out of proportion.
There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there, allowing “The rumor mill to somewhat spin out of control,” Superintendent Bill Crist said. “It certainly is no interest of the school district to allow some of those things to occur.”
He said he wants to provide the parents as much information as possible.
“Our school district is aware of the situation at Fitzhugh Park (Elementary) School regarding concerns for the health and safety of students. Before we engage in instruction in our school district, we work diligently to provide a safe and healthy environment that is appropriate for instruction and learning to occur,” Superintendent Crist said. We are aware that it is a constitutional right of students to receive a free and public education through the compulsory age of 21.”
“As a school district, we adhere to our Code of Conduct and provide appropriate discipline for violations. We are not able to comment on individual students or individual matters related to discipline, programming, placement, or other support or interventions – that could include counseling, therapy, or studies related to mental or psychological or psychiatric states. We are restricted as a school district to further discuss any information of a specific student under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act,” he continued.
Felicia Weber was the first to address the board on the situation at the school her son attends.
“We have recently learned there has been the placement of another child that is in the fifth grade who has been transferred from two of our other schools in the district due to what we’ve been told is sexually inappropriate behavior,” she told the board. “We are asking for information on what the school is doing to help make sure that all of our children are safe.”
She listed several impacts of sexual abuse on youngsters.
About 20 percent of those charged with a sexual offense in North America are juveniles, she said. And, many of them were sexually abused as a child, she added.
“So, therefore, by those statistics, what we’re worried about is is this going to cause the other children who have been sexually abused to create like some kind of epidemic where there are going to be other children who are abusing also?” she said.
She wanted to know if there would be any type of counseling program available to all the children. And the children in the school should have some kind of education on how to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted, she added.
Weber said she agrees that all children have the right to an education. “But, it also has to be in a safe manner for all children,” she said.
Emily Miner said she started an online petition on Change.org and has gotten 215 signatures “from people who are directly around Fitzhugh Park School area,” she said, adding that her daughter goes to that school.
“The general fear of everybody is that the situation has happened before and the school district has said ‘we will keep our children safe’ and that may be true, but it didn’t work at Kingsford (Park Elementary School),” she told the board members. “Now, this boy is at Fitzhugh Park and of course we’re concerned, any parent would be. But nobody can give us any type of example of what exact steps are going to be taken in this situation.”
They aren’t trying to attack the child, but at the same time prevention is better than the cure, she pointed out.
Debbie Gilmore said she met with the superintendent “instead of bad mouthing the school district and the child.”
“They don’t know the full facts,” she said of the other parents. “There are school district rules and state rules that they are not aware of. They need to see if from all points of view.”
She also took the group to task for picketing the elementary school earlier on Tuesday.
“They were wrong doing that, because for one, our children were punished today. They were not allowed to go outside today (because of the picket) – 65-70 degrees and they were punished,” she said. “And furthermore, why was there a child out there (on the picket line)? Why was he taken out of school and put on that picket line? Should another parent call (Department of Social Services) and have that parent investigated? It’s another snowball, people. Stop the ball.”
She urged the other parents to let the district to its job; “Shut your mouth unless you know the full facts,” she said.
Kristine Swank pointed out that Fitzhugh Park is the most populated school in the district.
She wondered if the child in question was in need of extra supervision.
“Because of the amount of children that are already in the school and the need for teachers in the classroom … it would be taking someone away from something else that they should be doing,” she said.
She has four children in the school.
The superintendent said he would do what he could to provide a sense of ease and a sense of comfort for the parents.
The school district doesn’t move a student from school to school, Board President John Dunsmoor said.
“If we do ever have a child in our school district under these circumstances this board has shown support to the administration to give that child a one-on-one person to make sure everybody, including the student, are safe,” he said. “Whether or not that’s happened, it’s going to happen.”
Veteran board member Sam Tripp noted that no board member, administrator or any teacher “ever, ever put a child in harm’s way.”
“Why does a parent wait until a child gets to school and then expect the school district to start talking about sexual activity and those types of things,” he said. “Every parent here, every parent in the world, should be talking to their child as soon as they are 2 or 3 years old and tell them that if anybody touches them improperly in a place where they shouldn’t be touched they need to tell their parents, they need to tell somebody right away. Don’t wait until the kid gets to school and then expect the school district to do it. The parent needs to do it. It just irritates me that the expect us to raise the child. We can’t raise the child. We do the best we can with the limited funds that we have. Please, parents, do your part. That’s all I ask.”