Allegations that children are being bullied and abused in Harford County Public Schools have come from public speakers at two recent school board meetings, representing what they say is a group of parents systemwide who either witnessed, or were told by others, about abuse by students and staff. Superintendent Barbara Canavan said Tuesday that anyone who observed inappropriate behavior should report it to the proper authorities, both in and outside the school system.
At a March 10th school board meeting, parent April Parsons said that her daughter was “attacked verbally and physically” at lunch on November 5, 2013 by another student who later pushed her daughter head first between the seats on the bus. Then on February 24, 2014, Parsons said that a student in language arts class grabbed her daughter’s knee and “pushed her dislocated knee into a desk”, causing a “great deal of pain” and resulting in a visit to the school nurse. Parsons did not name the school, and characterized the reactions to her daughter from unnamed teachers as either unsympathetic or incredulous. Repeated abuse by students, teachers and administrators was “well documented” and “systemic” in HCPS, she said, and victims “beg their parents not to get involved.” However, Parsons that said she represented a group of parents who intended to bring greater visibility to the problem. She asked the school board to undertake corrective action.
At a school board meeting Monday, March 24, former John Archer School parent Janice Wright made the following public comments, which were provided to The Dagger for publication:
“Good evening. I hope that you remember me, but just in case you don’t, allow to me refresh your memories. October 2011, I walked in to find my son restrained in a face down position on a device because he sat down and didn’t want to walk into school. According to the police report, the school placed him in danger of positional asphyxia 5-6 times during a 5-day period.
In March 2012, a teacher from John Archer wrote to me and told me about an incident that happened in 2009, where the principal dragged another student by his legs, face down through the lobby and onto the sidewalk. It was only when this letter went public did Central Office investigate and moved her to Central.
Today, I am speaking before you representing a group of parents that have come together and are finding consistencies regarding how HCPS handles bullying within their schools. I continue to hear horror stories of other children being abused, assaulted and bullied by HCPS staff as well as other students.
At Hickory Elem., 4 yr. old boy held up by his arm and leg by a male staff member because he was crying. This comes from a former teacher. She resigned shortly after this incident. His parents do not know this happened to him.
A bus driver witnessed a boy with Downs Syndrome being taken to the ground by a teacher and restrained face down. When she went to stop the teacher, the administrator told her to get back on her bus because she was not trained in dealing with behaviors. She said, “he did nothing wrong.” His parents do not know what happened to him.
A mom, whose 7 yr. old son attended Deerfield elementary, walked in to find 6 adults holding her son up against a wall. He sustained bruises and blood in his urine. On her son’s IEP recording, his teacher states that he was removed from class ½ of the day every day he was there. Mom asked for the documentation and they were not able to provide it. Again, this mother was never notified what was happening.
One more story, a 6 yr. old boy attended Red Pump Elem. until his psychologist recommended removing him from school because of the high number of restraints, seclusions and exclusions that the school was using on him.
What the parents of this group are finding is that HCPS routinely withholds information and documentation from parents as well as alters documentation. I requested documentation from MSDE in regards to our complaint. In the MSDE’s documentation were several sheets, nowhere found in the 2 boxes of documents I received from HCPS or John Archer, that said the staff restrained my son not the 5-6 times that they told the police, but 11 times in a 4 day period. HCPS alters documentation when MSDE comes in to investigate complaints. Several parents have expressed the same type of occurrences that happen at their schools throughout Harford County.
Teachers and bus drivers see the bullying happen frequently but refuse to speak out unless it is through anonymous means because of fear of retaliation from administration and losing their jobs. They have no resources to go to to express their concerns so they are left to suffer in silence.
Bullying is rampant within HCPS, by staff and by students. When my older son was in North Harford Middle, a bully kept touching him while they were on the bus. My son received a 1-day suspension from the bus because he pushed the bully’s hand away. When I asked the principal what she expected my son to do; her response was for him to stand up on a moving bus and tell the bus driver. These kinds of events play out every day throughout Harford County with little to nothing being done to stop it.
So far, I have heard from parents and staff at Hickory, Deerfield, Red Pump, Prospect Mill, and Emmorton Elem., and Fallston Middle and High School, North Harford Middle and Aberdeen High School.
A word of caution, a person who is bullied can only take so much before they reach their threshold and snap. If you continue to allow bullying within HCPS, my prediction is that you will end up with a Columbine, Sandyhook, or even Perry Hall event. Then the parents that think there child is safe in your schools may find themselves burying their son or daughter because of your inaction.
According to a letter from MSDE, it is your responsibility to uphold Maryland bullying laws. Yet, this issue has not been seriously addressed. In fact, the contrary is true. What I am seeing is a school system more concerned with their reputation than the safety of the children that attend. Ask [General Counsel] Mr. Spicer what [Special Education Director] Ms. Spakowski offered us regarding compensation for the violations against my son, since he chairs the Board Ethics Committee. I will gladly provide documentation to everything I have stated here, all you have to do is ask.
What our kids have experienced in Harford County Schools changed our lives forever. The guilt that we should have known what was happening is overwhelming; the trust that we had that our kids were safe in your schools, destroyed. We are asking you to hold the schools that you were elected to oversee, accountable. Show the citizens of Harford County, the state of Maryland and our country that you are truly making the necessary changes to keep our kids safe by being transparent in all of your actions. Only then, will changes actually happen. Thank you.”
Wright, who moved her son from John Archer to private school following the incidents in 2011, said that after her public remarks on Monday evening, Superintendent Barbara Canavan approached her and asked to meet.
Canavan said on Tuesday that she wanted to meet with Wright to ask her to encourage the people she referenced to come forward and report their observations to authorities.
Canavan also said that anyone who observed inappropriate behavior should contact the appropriate authorities, including Child Protective Services. Inside HCPS, Canavan said that parents and staff should begin with procedures outlined in the Bullying, Harassment or Intimidation Reporting Form, and Parent’s Guide available on the school system’s Web site. A copy of the form appears below: