SPRINGFIELD, NJ—Controversies on alleged bullying and the use of class looping in the township’s public schools continued as the major topic at Monday’s board of education meeting.

Residents continued to present instances where their children have reported being bullied to township schools, and many of them feel the district’s administration has not done enough to prevent this.

This particularly has been spotlighted in the case of nine-year-old Emma Spektor, who said, while a third grader at the district’s Thelma Sandmeier School, she had her school supplies stolen, was made fun of because of her freckles and birthmark, and was called stupid and an idiot and told she did not belong in the class.

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Her mother, Irina Spektor, asked school officials to transfer Emma to another class, in an apparent exemption to the district’s looping policy.

Superintendent of schools Michael Davino and other school officials have offered to transfer Emma to the James Caldwell School, but thus far have not allowed her to be transferred to another class at Sandmeier.

In the meantime, she has remained out of school for about six weeks.

Irina and school officials differ about how much help the district has provided in supplying Emma with study materials during the time she has been out of school.

At the last school board meeting, Davino read a list of 21 reasons for which claimed reports of the situation were incorrect. Irina Spektor has taken exception to many of these claims and, in fact, has called the posting of the superintendent’s remarks on the district website “inappropriate, unethical and unacceptable.”

At Monday’s meeting, the school board’s attorney revealed the Spektors have filed suit against the district and their attorney has been in discussion with the school district’s attorney over the matter.

Additionally, at Monday’s meeting, Davino and school board members outlined various programs the Springfield schools have for dealing with bullying and a number of residents made suggestions on how to improve these programs.

Also, a group of parents, for a number of reasons, including alleged bullying and educational and social opposition to looping, have been seeking an “opt out” policy for parents who do not want their children in looping situations,

Thus far, Davino, for what he believes to be sound educational reasons, has refused to change the district’s scheduling to allow “opting out” of looped classes.

There also have been a number of comments, on social media and at meetings from those who both support the board of education and its stand and those who believe the board has not taken sufficient action to support parents who want a more flexible approach to looping.

One of the board’s supporters at Monday’s meeting was Laura Delia 39 Norwood Rd., whose husband, Anthony Delia, was a former nine-year member of the education body.

She said there is an “epidemic of hatred” in the township, which brings back disturbing memories of eight years ago, when her husband voted a certain way on an issue “perhaps knowing information the public didn’t know for either confidential or legal reasons.  He voted against what “small portion of public wants.” 

Delia said that, the next day there was a message on her home answering machine implying that their child would be “killed.” 

She added that she sees the current situation now heading the same direction, alleging that the mother of the victim in bullying case above made a statement on Facebook that, “Hope (Davino) doesn’t live in Springfield for his own safety.” 

Delia also alleged phone harassment and the leaving of nasty voicemails to those supporting what they see as the board’s position.

She concluded, “You all have gone off course for your own individual causes—all driven by hatred. I know the town is better than this. My three kids have had an amazing education here—one in is in the high school—and that trend continues.”

However, Lisa Reilly of 116 Lyons Place, said her two children were bullied in Springfield schools and the bullying did not stop until they were moved out of township public schools.

She felt the situations could have been improved if her daughters did not have to attend class with certain classmates and she couldn't understand why the district would not grant a class transfer to Emma Spektor.

Reilly also credited one guidance counselor at Caldwell, Mrs. D’ambola, with helping her daughter Chandler to overcome some of her situation when teachers and other officials pretty much told her to deal with it on their own.

Chandler Reilly said when she entered Caldwell it was great, but in the fourth grade girls harassed her, belittled her, and made her feel she didn’t belong. 

When she moved to a new school, she said within three months she had new friends who liked her and appreciated her company. 

Another resident, Jason Silberfein of Briar Hills Circle, said, while he didn't necessarily know all the rules board uses to evaluate bullying and similar charges, some of the incidents he has heard about make it sound like school officials “left the kids out to dry.” 

He asked the board to review “what is that second step” when incidents aren’t necessarily reported to the state, but children and their parents are not satisfied with actions taken.

Silberfein also cited board policies or rules that say the board must maintain the confidence of the community in the board and staff and review whether, as its rules state, it is anticipating and dealing with problems brought about by lack of understanding.

Davino responded that, regardless whether a case meets the parameters of harassment, intimidation and bullying, it still is fully investigated and addressed by school officials.. 

He added, while the result of an investigation may not be what adults want it to be does not mean it has not been investigated or addressed. 

The superintendent also noted that every single child—whether victim or alleged perpetrator— is deserving of privacy. When initial interventions are not effective, he said, additional steps are taken.

Davino also said the district is taking steps to make the “second steps” referred to by Silberfein more clear.

Board vice president Scott Silverstein also said a presentation by the administration on how the district follows the law would be helpful.

He added district officials, in each incident, try to determine what happened, and help students to learn how to get along. 

The Bullies 2 Buddies program, he said, is directed at that. 

He added kids who treat kids the way they would not want be treated themselves are dealt with in a host of ways deal with, including counseling sessions, lunch with the principal. 

However, what happens to the other person’s child is not reported to the subject child’s parents, although It is being addressed. 

Silverstein added, “Every case in society does not work out the way both parties want. We give the kids tools not to be the aggressor and how, if subject to aggression, how to deal with it. It is wrong say no one is doing anything.”

Resident Matt Abram challenged the board and Davino to a “dare to be great moment—get Emma back in classroom in Sandmeier.”

One of the leaders of the flexible looping movement in the township, Sylvia Caggeano, noted that, since September 18, when the issue was first raised, a website and Facebook page have gone “live” and “hundreds” of people have come forward. 

She repeated opt out policies are supported by Jim Grant “the father of looping,” yet the Springfield school officials have said this would be impossible in Springfield.

Caggeano again called for establishment of a taskforce of teachers, administrators and board members to look into opt out, which, is “in force is such top-rated neighboring districts as Livingston.

She also said it was a shame that the board allowed publication of Davino’s 21-point letter, which she called “an attempt destroy the reputation of a family.”

Silverstein replied the public couldn't blame the board for not taking action on something that never was/brought before it. 

He added the school body spent a substantial amount of time dealing with issues it usually deals with plus others that “have come before it in the last few weeks,” adding, “it is not fair to say that people who do not come over to your side of an argument are not doing anything.”

Resident Ricarda Freydel noted she has listened, at several meetings to parents and stories of bullying. 

She wanted to know how the district tracked statistics for bullying—and how Social and Emotional Learning was applied in township schools.

The superintendent replied that the district is instituting SEL in an infusion program through the guidance department throughout the curriculum. 

He added this includes the Bullies 2 Buddies program with a license social worker giving two programs last year to the staff and two this year for students brought in during HIB-type cases. 

Davino added, however, that the SEL program data showed that no matter what disciplinary steps were taken victims did not feel comfortable. 

"Sometimes when kids are outside the eyes of adults they still do such things,” he added.

The superintendent added that the district has been promoting “non-punishment interventions”—involving parents and victims, while helping children learn coping skills.

Replying to Tony Oliveiro of 69 Troy Drive, Davino said he is willing to take a second look at a program David Brearley High School in Kenilworth uses, which employs the anti-bullying “app”, www.stop it.solutions.com.

He added, however, Springfield school officials have looked at it in past and thought not appropriate at that time. 

He added kids “vet” proposed apps, and three years ago the one mentioned by Oliveiro was introduced to them. The children said students would “phoney up” in response to it, but he had no difficulty sitting with his tech department and the kids to look at it again.

“Let the tech department find the most secure and safe app for us,” Davino said.

Joy Sudler, who is a licensed physician and board-certified internist with fellowship experience and training in endocrinology asked, when HiB is investigated is there any way get to an outside person rather than those inside the township schools.

Silverstein replied that internal investigations are mandated by the state. 

He added that, in HIB findings parents who disagree can appeal to the board and commissioner of education. However, he added, in most appeals the Springfield board has seen virtually every incident when a finding of HIB has not been found comes to it, while it rarely sees an appeal from those who believe that HIB did take place and the finding says otherwise.

Board member Jacqueline Shanes added the board, by law, can tell parents what the result is for their own child, but not what is done to the other child. 

Following a lengthy discussion between the superintendent and Sudler about different scenarios and classroom rearrangements to avoid looping, Davino said, he has a duty to make sure his students achieve the best environment for their instructional needs. 

He added that, even it parents give their permission for an arrangement that would be contrary to what is deemed the best educationally, and, since he is the professional educator, the parents could blame the school if their children did not progress. 

Sudler then cited a text that said students progress better when parents and teachers are involved and opt-out it possible.

Back to the subject of bullying Dr. Steven Sussman a Mountainside psychologist, cited the good work of his friend, Israel Kalman who instituted the Bullies2Buddies program. 

Sussman said 20 years ago a Swedish psychologist said that all kids and schools should be involved in confronting and stopping bullying. This did not always work—children are afraid of retaliation. 

Kalman, on the other hand, offers his free Bullies2Buddy program, which teaches kids how to deal with bullies. Parent also have a role too. They can go online and learn how react to handle bullying situations.

Davino said the program is used in Springfield, with a licensed clinical social worker running a program based on Bullies2Buddies. He added presentations also have been given to elementary school children and faculty members in the Innovate NJ program working with victims and accused. 

In further comments on Davino’s letter on the school district website, Irina Spektor said board members should have “felt uncomfortable” approving the post.

She also said she was “very disappointed” that the letter was aired in the public forum.

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