More than 150 people packed the Fairfield Board of Education meeting at the high school Thursday to confront district officials again about their inaction with regard to bullying in the schools.
It was the second time in five months a swarm of angry parents have addressed the board.
The district has been under fire for its handling of bullying ever since Fairfield Middle School student Emilie Olsen took her own life in December 2014. Her family contended that bullying had a hand in her death.
Upset parents turned out in mass Thursday after news surfaced of another allegation of bullying against an Asian-American student at the middle school — and the alleged bully was the same student who had also bullied Olsen.
More than 20 people signed up to speak during the meeting’s public comments section, and the board members and other school officials listened for more than 90 minutes to people decrying the district’s conduct.
Lou Doty, a West Chester Twp. resident who was friends with the family of Emilie Olsen, pointed at Superintendent Paul Otten and demanded his resignation, which was cheered by the overflowing crowd.
“These hearts are broken. They will never be repaired,” Doty said, referring to Emilie’s parents. “You, sir, you need to resign.”
About a dozen people sat on the floor, while dozens more stood around the perimeter of the room, with still more overflowing into the entryway of the Performing Arts Center. Many held up anti-bullying signs, with slogans such as “Whose kid is next?” and “Little Girls Lives Matter.”
Many in the crowd were Asian-American, because Emilie was, as is another child at the center of another bullying incident. But people of all kinds spoke up.
Parent Tamara Murphy said she withdrew her daughter from the Intermediate School because of bullying.
“She pulled all her eyelashes out as a result of anxiety and was vomiting every morning not wanting to go to school,” Murphy said, as the audience groaned in response.
She returned her daughter to the Freshman building and was pleased to find the problems subsided, or were dealt with appropriately. So in her view, the problem seems to be concentrated in the Intermediate and Middle schools.
Murphy has several rental properties, and “I have recently heard people that were potential renters tell me that they would not consider renting in Fairfield because of concerns about the middle school and intermediate building.”
Board President Jerome Kearns demanded that order had to be restored more than once; at one point, the audience began chanting “stop bullying.”
Kurt Grossman, the immigration chair for American Jewish Committee Cincinnati, told the board, “Discrimination and bullying thrive in an environment where authority figures turn a blind eye … the Jewish community knows all too well what becomes of bullying and violence.”
West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong, who was among the protesters at the meeting, accused the school district of avoiding the issue and of being in denial.
“We feel the school board did not do anything about this. It’s really a crime they committed,” Wong said of the bullying students. “A lot of concern is going to be raised … the district didn’t do enough. They are not proactive in this.”
District and school leaders sat down this week with Wang and the parents of the Asian American girl at the center of the recent alleged bullying incident on Oct. 5 to review security camera video, Wang said. During a gym class, students were playing indoor hockey. The family alleges the bully intentionally tripped her daughter with a hockey stick, and she was injured as a result.
District spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher confirmed the meeting with the parents, but said she could not reveal what action the school took because parents on both sides have not given permission to reveal details.
“We don’t feel they’re taking it seriously,” Wang said.
Gentry-Fletcher disagreed, saying the fact they had the meeting with the family shows otherwise.
The Greater Cincinnati Chinese School sent an email to parents asking them to come to the board meeting and to join the protest.
”“This girl’s parents will attend the Fairfield School Board Meeting to protest and ask questions…They reached out to the Asian community for help and support. We are called to show solidarity and support by simply showing up at the meeting.” the letter states.
Song Jin, the principal of the school, told the Journal-News Thursday that “the school officials chose to turn their heads trying to cover it up.
“This is not acceptable and should not be tolerated, especially considering that schools have a duty under law to maintain a healthy and nurturing learning environment at all times for all students,” he said.
Fairfield has participated in a number of anti-bullying measures in recent months, including bringing in Rachel’s Challenge, a program by survivors of the Columbine High School shooting that emphasizes kindness. In another presentation, the district brought in a bullying expert to speak to both students and parents. Earlier this month, the district had a program at the Middle School about the dangers of spreading information on social media.
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