SOMERS, N.Y. - The person who is believed to have created hate-filled Instagram posts targeting local students has been identified and the account taken down, the Somers school district announced Monday, June 1.
Last week, High School Principal Mark Bayer sent an emotional letter to parents after the district was notified about “cruel and disparaging comments” made on the photo/video sharing app.
“Many of the posts on the account are sexist, racist, and homophobic in nature. The language used is vicious, slanderous, and downright disgusting,” Bayer wrote on Thursday, May 28.
“I cannot begin to express how incredibly disappointed I am that this has happened here in Somers. Based on everything our students have shown they can be, I WANT to believe that they are better than this. I HAVE to believe that we are better than this,” he had said.
One parent posted on Facebook that they had been told by Instagram that since there was no direct threat towards a specific person it couldn’t “forcefully close the account.”
She had asked parents and others to bombard Instagram with reports of cyberbullying, racism, hate speech, and victimization of minors.
After the account was deactivated, another Somers parent, Donna Pascucci, posted on Facebook “a heartfelt thank you to all the moms and community members who reported this page almost 1,000 times since Thursday.”
The incident was “a wake-up call that cyber bullying continues to happen,” said Pascucci, who happens to be a lawyer.
The district said Monday that it enlisted the help of the Westchester County Police Department, which sussed out the account’s originator.
Police are still trying to determine if others were involved in creating and/or posting to the account.
The district said it can’t release anyone’s name—or any disciplinary actions that may be taken—because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
However, it assured parents Monday that “once that issue is settled, the actions of any student who played a role in creating and/or posting to the account will be addressed in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”
In the letter signed by Bayer and schools Superintendent Dr. Ray Blanch, the district said it was “disturbed” by the incident and praised the “many students who stepped up to defend those who were disparaged.”
“This incident does not represent who we are as a community. We must work together to make sure that respect and kindness reign in Somers,” it read.
In an earlier letter, Bayer said he was shocked and shaken up by the incident.
“What I cannot understand - what I refuse to understand - is how anyone could choose to create an anonymous account and cowardly post something, knowing full well it will hurt another person. That is the very definition of cruelty and I have to hope that there are enough people out there who will stand up to this,” he wrote.
After the account came to light, students, parents, and concerned residents reached out to the district, either through email or its Anonymous Alerts system.
Based on the intensity of the outrage, Bayer said “it is clear that the vast majority of people in our community denounce this behavior and remain vigilant in making sure that it gets reported to school officials and law enforcement so that it can be stopped.”
The principal added that he was heartened by the number of students responding to the posts who “defended one another and stood up to this form of bullying and harassment.”
This shows, Bayer added last week, that “when faced with negative behaviors such as this, the overwhelming majority of our students do the right thing.”
“One of the most basic human needs is to feel safe. As a district and as a school, we work hard every day to make sure that every single student who walks through our front doors feels safe and knows that they are valued and cared for,” he wrote.
Calling the situation a “teachable moment for our children,” Bayer said he hoped that “if our students can put themselves in the shoes of a classmate, then they will realize that words can hurt and that their actions can have devastating consequences.”