The uncaring school officials of South Hadley

I want to call your attention to two strong Boston Herald pieces on the bullying-related charges filed in connection with the suicide of South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince.

First, Margery Eagan had a terrific column yesterday on the uncaring adults who might have stepped in and stopped the torture — the teachers, administrators and staff members who looked the other way despite knowing exactly what was going on, according to District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel.

“She told her mother, who told the school,” Eagan wrote. “Yet on the day she died, she was attacked in the library right in front of a teacher. She was attacked again in the hallway and again as she walked home.”

Even more disturbing is a story in today’s paper by Laura Crimaldi and Jessica Van Sack reporting that South Hadley School Committee chairman Edward Boisselle was dismissive of Scheibel’s findings when interviewed. In response to Scheibel’s assertion that the bullying directed toward Phoebe Prince was “common knowledge,” Boisselle reportedly said:

I don’t know how that’s factually based. Did they go interview all 700 kids at the school and found out that more than 300 knew about it? Isn’t that the only way you could tell that they factually knew about it?

I wonder how you go about recalling a school committee member in South Hadley?

And what about school superintendent Gus Sayer? He is — are you ready? — on vacation, and has said nothing since Scheibel announced yesterday that her office was indicting nine suspects. Granted, he’s attending a wedding on the West Coast. But it’s not like he’s being asked to comment on flooding in a school basement.

This story by Sandra Constantine, in the Springfield Republican, at least makes it look like assistant superintendent Christine Sweklo is on the case. But, based on the Herald’s reporting, we appear to be dealing with mind-boggling indifference on the part of Boisselle and a less-than-heroic response from Sayer.

8 thoughts on “The uncaring school officials of South Hadley

  1. As a Western Mass resident who lives near South Hadley, does work in that town, and a victim of bullying not unlike Phoebe Prince when I was in high school, I have found the behavior of almost everyone in that town disturbing.

    But I think when we look back on this situation most people are going to come to the same conclusion: the big local paper in the area, the Springfield Republican, has failed us too. Day after day, Boston papers are beating the Republican on depth of reporting. In particular, the columnists of both the Herald and Globe have been great. The Republican’s reporting has been perfunctory. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call it “coverage”.

    It all reminds me of 1990 when the Boston Globe scooped the Springfield Republican on the fact that we had a corrupt District Attorney (among other things, the DA had a regular racquetball game with the local mafia don at the YMCA). (more about the story here: http://tommydevine.blogspot.com/2009/07/journalism-fiasco.html)

    If there great local coverage with heat, who thinks that the superintendent and school principle could be MIA and basically lie to the public?

  2. Al Fiantaca

    The whole story is a shame. One thing that bothers me is the fact that each time a new aspect of the story breaks, starting with the first report of the suicide, and ending, thus far, with the announcement of the indictments, is the fact that the school leadership, either the Principal or the Superintendent is “out of town”, or otherwise “unavailable”. This stonewalling is papal in its arrogance, and at the very least, they have to go. Without these moves at the top of the system, there will never be a change in the climate in the system. There are plenty of other corrections that need to be done, more than I pretend to lay out in a short comment.

  3. Michael Pahre

    One media report mentioned that two teachers at the school had followed up and tried to do something about the bullying. (I wish I could find the link.) The MSM appears to be focusing on how nobody on staff there did anything about it.

    If two teachers tried, then it is more appropriate to talk about “some teachers and administrators” and not paint them all with a broad brush.

    Although we have little specific information (the prosecutor has not released any significant details or evidence), I am skeptical about the DA’s assertion that basically everyone at the school knew about the bullying of one girl; that is a broad generalization difficult to prove. A new kid at a large school is probably only known personally by a handful of staff (maybe a dozen), and only the more trusted ones would be approached by the student and/or parents about the bullying (unless the staff witnessed it themselves — which appears to have been the case on the day of her death, though).

    This story definitely has legs and is provoking a lot of discussion both around Mass and the country. I sympathize with any potential jurors in the case because they will have a very difficult job sorting out these divergent charges (statutory rape, civil rights violation, harassment, disturbing a school assembly, stalking) that aren’t really bullying, per se.

  4. BP Myers

    @Michael said: statutory rape, civil rights violation, harassment, disturbing a school assembly, stalking [aren’t] really bullying, per se.

    Wow.

    That is all.

  5. Alison Murray

    @Al Fiantaca: love the phrase “papal in its arrogance.”
    My experience as a reporter and parent of 3 now in high school has shown me that administrators are not nimble in their responses to anything. It’s the nature of a bureaucratic beast. A completely normal reaction to a parent’s complaint is to do nothing at all, given that teens have short attention spans and, in the absence of blood evidence, bullies are likely to move on to new victims quickly (they have hundreds of potential victims in many suburban schools).

  6. Michael Pahre

    @BP Meyers: You might want to read the Boston Globe article on 3/31/10:

    “With no statute criminalizing school bullying, she must rely on a series of laws rarely used in such cases — including those against stalking, civil rights violations, and statutory rape — and convince a jury that a series of those crimes led to Prince’s death…

    Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a Harvard law professor [said:] ‘Is the prosecutor using existing criminal laws in ways that have not been used before in order to vindicate what is, yes, a very horrible tragedy, but a tragedy that may not be recognized by the criminal law?'”

    The students are not charged with bullying per se, because there is no such bullying statute — and which is why legislators are climbing all over each other to pass new anti-bullying legislation. Sadly, it will be too little too late for Prince.

  7. BP Myers

    @Alison said: a whole bunch of things that make my head explode.

    Given how easily some “adults” can apparently explain away this behavior, it’s no wonder bullies are allowed to get away with it. Also easy to tell in this very thread who were the bullies, and who were the bullied.

  8. BP Myers

    @BP Meyers: You might want to read the Boston Globe article on 3/31/10

    Thanks, Michael. And you may wanna re-think how statutory rape, civil rights violations, harassment, disturbing a school assembly, and stalking, aren’t really bullying, by themselves.

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