NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – An impassioned plea to stop bullying at the Northbridge Middle School, made to the School Committee by the mother of a student two weeks ago, has lead to a rift between a member of the Board of Selectmen and a school board member.
The mother, who identified herself as Mrs. C to protect the identity of her children, said her 13-year-old daughter was driven to thoughts of suicide after months of incessant bullying. She has since taken her daughter out of the middle school, but has a son there who she said is also being bullied
Selectman James J. Athanas, at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen last night, said parents received a note about the bullying issue from the school. He had a question and was told “that it was none of my business,’’ he said.
Athanas said he understands that selectmen have no jurisdiction over the school department. He feels, though, that as a parent and citizen, he deserved a different response. “I was offended,’’ he said.
“Obviously what they have in place isn’t working,’’ he said. “I think it is our place to show some type of leadership,’’ he said of selectmen.
Selectman Charles Ampagoomian said he agreed with Athanas. "We may not have direct control, but we are responsible... we have to face the community.''
"And as a parent,'' he said, "you have every right to question.''
Town Manager Theodore Kozak said he’d been asked to look into the bullying accusation. Schools Superintendent Susan Gorky and School Committee Chairman Michael McGrath responded with emails they asked he read at Monday night’s meeting.
“The Northbridge School Committee takes bullying very seriously and insists that the school leadership investigate every issue to the fullest extent possible. We were deeply moved by the comments given by the parent at our meeting on Tuesday night. I have personally met with the superintendent to understand all that is being done with regards to this situation,’’ McGrath wrote.
He continued, “We are striving to have a bully free school district, but understand that we are in the middle of the process and still have a distance to travel.’’
McGrath said the School Committee will discuss and review its kindergarten through grade 12 bullying procedures and progress at a meeting on May 8.
Gorky said school administrators were touched by the statement made by Mrs. C about the alleged incidents and they are being investigated. She noted, however, that she is unable to comment further due to confidentiality.
The School Department has “zero tolerance’’ for bullying, has numerous programs within the system to discourage that behavior, and “looks forward to eradicating bullies from our schools,’’ she said.
In unrelated matters, selectmen:
- Affirmed the appointments made by Kozak of Daniel Chauvin as animal control officer, and Katherine Hawkins as inspector of animals.
- Approved a liquor license for Divine Thai Restaurant, 123 Church St., on the condition its manager is has received TIPS certification from the Alcoholic Beverages Commission.
- Voted in support of a special permit for work in the flood plain for the Whitinsvlle Water Company Water Treatment Facility on Carr Street.
- Gave the Fire Department permission to hang a banner over Church Street from April 25 through May 6 to advertise its annual spaghetti supper planned Saturday, May 12.
- Gave Blackstone Valley Pop Warner permission to conduct a boot drive on Saturday, June 23 from 9 a.m. to noon at Memorial Square.