Parents voice concern in wake of video

A video encouraging suicide made by Berlin Community School students sparked outrage among parents at the Nov. 16 BOE meeting.

Parents questioned the Berlin Borough School District’s ability to discipline harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents after a video from June was found recently on YouTube in which two Berlin Community School students encouraged another student to kill himself.

The video has since been removed from the popular video-sharing website.

The victim was Councilman Rick Miller’s fifth-grade son.

After learning about the video recently, Miller reached out to the school this week. He said the two students have not been reprimanded.

“How we handle situations and the perception is what the reality is to all these people out here. And the reality is — the administration doesn’t care about our kids. They only care about their school character rating,” Miller said at the Nov. 16 BOE meeting.

Throughout the meeting, dozens of parents demanded the board address the issue.

“We will not be discussing this particular matter in public,” board solicitor Allan Dzwilewski said.

The board said it needed to have a private discussion before moving forward publicly.

Dzwilewski said the board is restricted by law to not talk about “student personnel” and other issues.

In a call with The Sun the day after the meeting, Superintendent Kristen Martello said she could not comment on the status of the investigation, but said the investigation did follow the protocols outlined in the state’s Guidance Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.

According to the state’s guidance, which the school district has posted on its website, investigations must be completed no later than 10 school days from the date of the written report.

“Nobody can answer. No one can look me in the face and tell me that my son is safe, that my son is going to be handled at school,” said Christina Miller, Rick’s wife and the victim’s mother.

The outcry from parents unfolded shortly after Assistant Principal and District Anti-bullying Coordinator Frank Locantora gave a presentation about BCS’s 2017–2018 HIB report. As of Oct. 31, three cases were reported but none were confirmed, according to Locantora.

In the presentation, Locantora discussed the district’s revamped form of discipline, which went into effect this year. With “restorative practices,” the aim is to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships.

But, contrary to the results Locantora presented, parents did not feel the school’s system has been effective.

“It think it’s funny that I’m here at this presentation, because this sweeping under the rug, contained damage, ‘everybody gets along’ attitude is what’s wrong with this school,” Rick Miller said.

In front of the board, another parent said his son was assaulted in school in the recent past. After sending two unresponded to emails to the board, he removed his son from BCS.

“I didn’t know if (the incident) was actually investigated, because you guys hide behind this HIB,” the parent said.

Police Officer T.J. Varano was also in attendance and said he was contacted about the video. He sent an officer to take a report, but the department deemed the situation could be handled within the school.

“We felt that the underlying issues from that video stemmed at school,” Varano said. “We felt it could be handled within the school.”

However, Varano urged parents to reach out to the department for future potential juvenile criminal matters.

The board stated that every matter that comes before school authorities goes through an investigative process.

“At the end of that process, you may not, as a parent or citizen, like that result,” Dzwilewski said.

“What’s happening here is unacceptable, and it’s gotta stop,” Councilman Len Badolato said. “Either one of two things are going to happen here — either (the board members) stop it or (the parents) out there are going to stop it.”