By the time a worried parent contacted us about the bullying at PS/IS 217, it had gone on for over a year. It culminated finally in the death threat. School officials have been powerless to stop it and protect a female classmate despite repeated appeals from her parents. The parents were not told of the latest incident until the day after – in an email.
by David Stone
The NYC Department of Education guarantees students a “safe and supportive learning and educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying committed by students against other students.”What To Do If Your Child Has Been Bullied/IncludeNYC
But not apparently on Roosevelt Island.
Because the children are minors, their names as well as their families’ name will be withheld.
Bullying Off to a Rough Start
The first email from the parents of the girl being bullied was casual and in good faith. It started with the usual, “Hope my email finds you well.” And ends with a wish that the alleged bully gets the “help” he needs.
In January 2022, the parents’ first email to school officials, including Principal Mandana Beckman, concerned their daughter’s reporting that the boy will “…follow her to the restroom and will kick the bathroom door while she was inside.”
But that escalated into “pushing, pulling, hitting etc.”
The girl, her parents say, was told: “…not to pay attention to that, that if the teachers have not seen it they can not do anything…” She was “upset, angry and felt let down by the teachers for not stopping this aggressive behavior…”
Under normal conditions, this would be enough to initiate preventive action, but not at PS/IS 217. Within two weeks, the girl alleged that the boy slammed her in the face with a book. This followed an incident where he threw ice on her during recess.
The school, though, sent her home with a note that claimed: “The allegations were not substantiated.”
In a telling response, the exasperated parents write, “what are you waiting for – a pencil, pen, scissors, or something else?”
They provided a photograph of their daughter with a black eye they say came from the incident.
Throughout their correspondence with the school, they repeatedly ask that they “keep our daughter safe.” There was little progress in that direction.
A New School Year, But the Same Problems
“It is extremely frustrating to have to contact you this school yr with the problem that (name withheld) keeps bullying (name withheld) during this new school year but this time with physical force,” the girl’s mom wrote in September 2022.
Both parents attended conferences at the school, yet the aggressiveness toward their daughter continued. Oftern their emails read more like appeals: “Can we schedule a meeting to find out how the school is going to protect my daughter from any further violence and harassment and bullying?”
The school’s failures finally came to a head last week.
“Call Me. Urgent!”
The parents of the bullied girl had not sought publicity before, but the bullying finally went over the top.
“I have a bow and arrow and I will shoot your head,” another student reported hearing the boy threaten their daughter. Their daughter may have lost confidence in telling her teachers about what was happening to her and did not report it herself.
Making matters worse, although this occurred and was reported on Thursday, February 2nd, her parents were not notified until the afternoon of the next day. That’s when Lisa Sanchez from Student Support Services sent an email. No one at the school bothered calling either of the girl’s parents
“This student’s mother has been contacted, and they will have a consequence for this
comment immediately,” Sanchez wrote, revealing that the victim’s parents were not the first contacted.
In a meeting with the girl’s mother, Principal Beckman blamed, of all people, RIOC CEO Shelton Haynes. He was at fault, she explained, because she had met with him before the new building at 460 Main Street opened, telling him that she did not have resources for dealing with the influx of new students.
It’s unclear what she expected from Haynes who oversees a state agency and has no authority over the city or its schools. Or why she’s blaming him for anything.
Taking Action Against Bullying On Their Own
After their daughter suffered over a year of bullying at PS/IS 217 without anything approaching an effective resolution protecting her, her parents swung into action when the threat of violence took things to another, frightening level.
They filed a report with PSD – to get it on the record – although PSD is neither trained or empowered in this area. That led to a visit from NYPD but still no action.
Throughout this long process, the school failed this child. Long term, the affects on her educational and emotional development are unpredictable, even after her parents tried hard to work within the system.
What’s next? We don’t know, but the girl’s parents have rallied the parents of other students in the class. That might get something done. So far, among messages of support and encouragement arrived some insight from an unexpected source.
Fay Christian, a retired school teacher and now a RIOC board member, offered some clarity on how things are done the right way. Maybe it will help.
In the meantime, a repeatedly bullied girl returns to school today with no assurance that she will respected or protected.