CHESHIRE — Town officials clashed this week over the school board’s response to bullying complaints from parents earlier this year.
Speakers at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, along with some board members, said there’s been little more than talk since a host of parents brought incidents of bullying to the attention of school officials in March.
The school board has a Democratic majority. Board members most critical of the school system’s response and nearly all of the elected officials who spoke Thursday are Republicans.
Three Planning and Zoning Commission Republicans and one Democrat asked that the board do more to address bullying in the schools.
School board leaders and Superintendent Jeff Solan have said that federal student privacy laws prevent the district from releasing what discipline bullies face, even to parents of the bullied students. Solan said that the district does let parents know what consequences are generally handed out for certain behaviors, but can’t provide specifics. Most parents are satisfied with the district’s responses, but not all.
“There is a minute percentage that that doesn’t satiate their need for knowledge or feel that it’s not punitive in nature enough for them,” Solan said.
Matt Bowman, a PZC member and Democrat, said the board was hiding behind “the baloney of privacy” and was “inept” at holding the school’s administration accountable.
Democratic school board Chairwoman Kathryn Hallen cut him off.
“This is not the forum to attack every member of the Board of Education,” she said. “You’ve made yourself clear and I’ll have to ask you to stop speaking.”
“Resign. You’re useless,” Bowman said.
Solan said the district could be sued for violations of student privacy.‘We have no data’
At a special board meeting last week, school and town leaders unveiled two new groups that will focus on improving the lives of youth and preventing bullying in the schools.
Bullying, mental health and school climate came to the forefront after the suicide of an 11-year-old Doolittle student in December.
Republican school board members suggested the board receive regular reports on discipline and bullying incidents in the school. Tony Perugini, a Republican board member, said without such data he had no idea if the school’s policies are working.
“We have no data,” Perugini said. “I can’t tell you that they’re working… I can’t say whether it’s getting better or worse.”
He also suggested another forum for parents before the end of the school year and urged better communication.
Hallen said she’d look into scheduling such a meeting.
“I do think we have to work harder on making sure people feel that they are being responded to,” she said. “There’s never going to be a time when we have 100 percent satisfaction… I do think we have to make absolutely sure that if a parent is reaching out to a principal, to a teacher, there’s a response and that people don’t think they’re being ignored.”