Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Parents, residents address bullying

Monday, November 25, 2019 by Christopher Haring Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The Nov. 12 meeting will be remembered as a tense, contentious one, addressing bullying and harassment concerns initially posed at the prior meeting by district parent David Clarke.

Clarke, who has two children that attended (and have since been removed from) district schools, returned to follow up his criticism with the district’s addressing, or lack thereof, of his complaints, which were first brought to the attention of the board Oct. 22. He expressed his dismay at what he perceives as the lack of urgency and appropriate reaction by administrators. One of his children, he said, was even forced to remain in a class which was being taught by their bully’s parent.

Several other concerned parents and residents attended and spoke at the meeting, inspired by a story posted by the Saucon Source website about Clarke’s first meeting appearance, particularly the comments section on its Facebook posting which featured dozens of testimonials from parents of past and current students in which they criticized bullying, racism and other forms of harassment and discrimination over several years in the district.

Previously, Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler had issued a statement in an email to parents on October 29th, reaffirming the district’s commitment to confronting these issues head-on. Shortly thereafter, local parent MaryAnn Wisser created the private Facebook group “The Saucon Valley Community Against Bullying,” which quickly grew to approximately 150 members who shared anecdotal evidence of bullying in the district, criticism of the district’s handling of reported incidents and support of local anti-bullying initiatives. Butler then issued another statement on Nov. 7, which again attempted to quell parents’ concerns that the administration and board were not taking these reports and allegations seriously.

These forms of allegations are all too familiar for the district and surrounding community. In 2017, incidents in the Saucon Valley School District were featured in both a documentary that aired on the A&E cable television network as well as an article in the popular magazine Rolling Stone. The district and several of its personnel at the time were also named defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit by the parents of two former students who provided evidence of repeated racist bullying and harassment. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court for a reported sum of $100,000 nearly one year ago, contended that administration at the time routinely turned a blind eye to such matters. As part of the settlement, the district also agreed to an updated Anti-Bullying Program as well as Anti-Bias Training for its staff. It saw nearly wholesale turnover of leadership in the district, from the superintendent through administration, secondary-level principals and the board itself.

After Clarke and several other concerned parents and taxpayers (including Kerry MacLean, whose children were the subjects of the lawsuit in 2017) spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Butler did offer a statement that reminded attendees that bullying is not simply a local issue, offering statistics that framed it as a nation-(and world-)wide issue. “Over 7 million students in 2011 between the ages of 12 and 18 reported some sort of bullying in their school environment,” he said. “I’m not sure there’s a school in the nation… who is immune to this type of behavior.” Responding to MacLean, who urged the board to remain vigilant in combating these issues, Dr. Butler said “Complacency is not the name of the game as long as I’m sitting in this seat and speaking on behalf of this team.”

The next board meeting will not be held until Dec. 3 due to the Thanksgiving holiday.