OSWEGO, NY – In the wake of multiple bullying incidents that have been brought to light at Oswego High School, a group of parents banned together to rally for answers as well as stricter policies and consequences for bullies.
The rally members came in the form of parents, family members and even a student that was bullied herself to face the board members and district superintendent to address the issues of bullying that they believe have become so predominant in Oswego City School District.
The first parent to approach the board of education Monday night was Micki Losurdo, addressing the board on behalf of her son who she says is a high functioning autistic child with no disciplinary record and a high honor roll student.
“He was brutally attacked and I don’t feel at this point that we have gotten to where we need to be as far as addressing this issue,” she started.
Losurdo offered two main questions in her concern with bullying that she hopes she will receive an answer for in some time, “Why are children that are being bullied being offered home tutoring or in center tutoring? And, who is the dignity act coordinator for the high school?”
Since the public comment portion of the board meeting does not act as a conversation (it is just a form for the public to address the board), Losurdo will not receive immediate response from any member of the board of education.
This portion of the meeting gives the public a chance to address the board without an instant response from the board or superintendent.
One parent, Michael Todd said that his daughter was attacked by multiple bullies in a premeditated assault in December of 2015.
“Since that happened there has been some go around as to what the DASA requirements are and evidently there is some confusion on it, so in talking to the DASA people and printing out all the stuff, I’m going to let everybody know that is not aware,” he said.
DASA refers to the Dignity for All Students Act. According to the NYS education website (nysed.gov), “New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.”
Todd went on to inform the board and audience that under the DASA requirements, any school employee that is aware of or witness to any bullying, discrimination or harassment is required to orally notify the principal, superintendent or their designees no later than one school day after the incident is seen or an incident is reported to them.
He continued that a written report must be filed to the principal, superintendent or designees no later than two school days after the incident is seen or an incident is reported to them.
“No place at all in DASA in talking with the state is there any requirement that the parent or student have any obligation to fill this out. In addition to that, the one form that is not on your school district website for anyone to fill our is a DASA form,” he explained.
Todd said that the sole responsibility is on the teachers and administration of the school as they are the ones given training in these areas.
Todd claimed his daughter went to the administration six times in the week leading up to the attack and that he believes it was a premeditated attack, as it was posted online before it was going to happen.
He noted it took the substitute teacher that day 53 seconds before security was notified, as shown in the video.
Todd was upset to see that both students that committed the attack on his daughter are back in school and the student who helped plan the attack, videotaped the altercation and posted it online is back in school and playing on the basketball team.
He brought up four other cases of bullying in which four other videos have been made involving a bullying altercation in the high school and said they, being all parents and family members involved, are looking for policy changes.
“We want to see the changes, we want to see DASA carefully enacted,” he said. “so that every single time of these incidents happens our students are safe. My daughter’s right to go to school safely outweighs any other students right to have an education if they cant behave properly, and that’s where we need to get to.”
He doesn’t plan to stop at this school board meeting, however and he has already taken steps to involve higher levels of office into the investigation of his daughter’s attack.
“The state board of education has been notified, they’re doing an investigation now. The state attorney general’s office is now looking into it and a request was made on Thursday to the US attorney’s office because it goes to DASA that they now come in here and investigate this,” said Todd.
One student addressed the board after dropping out a month and a half ago from her senior year in high school at Oswego due to being, “excessively bullied.”
One grandmother addressed the board on behalf of her grandson saying that his incident with a bully “could have been diffused if the school (official) who was in charge did their job.”
She claimed that if a school employee had notified the principal or school security of the bullying that had been ongoing, the situation would not have escalated to a physical altercation.
“The school really needs to step up and do something with the bullying situation because its out of control, big time,” she finished.
An aunt of the same student then addressed the board in response to her nephew’s experiences with bullies at the high school.
She said they were able to watch a video while at a superintendent’s meeting in which she watched a school bus driver stand on the steps of the bus, allow a student to get off the bus and attack her nephew while she continued to stand on the bus steps and watch.
She believes the school is sending a message to student athletes that “if you’re an athlete, its okay to attack a disabled child.”
“That’s not right, it should be equal for every child in that school and not just who you deem to be accessible or who you deem to be a good child. That’s not your decision to make, you’re supposed to be unbiased teachers and supervisors of these children who are supposed to look out for them. Yet I have not seen that done at all with all of these videos that are posted,” she added.
After the board meeting had concluded, Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey spoke to Oswego County Today in response to the parents’ efforts to reach out to the district regarding an issue with bullying.
“I’m thrilled to hear parents come in and share their thoughts. I’ve had conversations with every parent that spoke here tonight over my years in this district,” he said. “There’s not been one situation where a parent reached out to me and I haven’t been available so they’re not sharing anything new to me but its nice to have the board hear from them directly.”
While Dr. Goewey understands that there is no arguing with these isolated incidents, the school district does take a proactive approach to bullying.
“We do a lot of proactive things in our district. We have the PBIS system which is a proactive approach to positive behaviors that starts in kindergarten. We also have a lot of initiatives built into the school improvement plan at the Oswego high school because my focus since I was the assistant superintendent has been on the social, emotional developmental health of the kids,” he said.
Through his years in education working at different positions at different levels of education, Goewey affirms that his sole focus has always been on the well being of students and their educational experience.
“Nobody cares about quality of education of kids more than I do. I’ve built my career on it,” he added. “I love the district, there’s nothing more that I want to do then continue to love it and safety, security and comfort of kids is number one. If parents feel their kids aren’t getting that, then I want to know it.”
In regards to the specific DASA regulations addressed at the meeting, Goewey believes he and his administration and staff are well versed in this area.
“I know DASA quite well, but what I didn’t know is the consistency of how it was applied across our seven schools,” he said. “So that’s really what I’ve been spending a lot of time doing is looking at that flow from kindergarten to 12 to see that our practices and procedures are consistent.”
Despite the opinion of many parents as exemplified in the public comment portion of the meeting, Dr. Goewey believes the high school principal and staff have done well in response to bullying incidents.
“In all fairness, Dr. Sweeney, who is our high school principal, knows DASA quite well and has had extensive training. Anything she’s done to document was born of her understanding of DASA,” he said.
Adding, “Dr. Sweeney’s done a great job and has been fully responsive. It’s not always easy.”
As far as the goal of the parents that spoke at the meeting looking for policy changes as referenced by Todd, Goewey said, “I don’t see policy changes. The board has policies on bullying, the board has policies on DASA, its directed by law. In terms of practices though, absolutely. I see practice changes in terms of that consistency from school to school that I mentioned before.”