Lehighton mother speaks out about bullying
Allegations of a hazing incident at Lehighton Area Middle School and an elementary student injured in a bullying incident dominated discussion at Monday night’s district board meeting.
Jessica Wagner told the board of an alleged incident where her 11-year-old son was tackled in a bathroom by another student. Wagner said her son’s head slammed back against a tile floor and he was left with a skull fracture, a brain bleed and a concussion.
“The nurse called us and said he had a headache,” Wagner said.
“If I didn’t take him to the hospital when I did, my son would have lost his life. What upset me the most is when my son went back to school, that other student was still in his class for a period of time. He was eventually transferred to a different teacher, but they still have lunch and recess together.”
Lehighton Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the district’s hands are tied when it comes to releasing information on incidents within its walls.
Many parents, he said, want answers on what is being done but when it comes to student discipline, the law keeps things close to the vest.
“There are a lot of protected rights for children,” he said. “Even if your child is bullied or a victim, we can’t discuss with you the punishment for the other child or children involved.”
Parents, on Monday, said it feels like bullies are often protected and asked administrators where the line in the sand is between keeping a child in Lehighton’s schools and sending them to an alternative program or expelling them.
The answer, Cleaver said, is not cut and dry.
“Students have the right to a free and appropriate public education,” he said. “We can recommend a child go to Behavioral Health Associates or another alternative program, but if the parent disagrees, that option goes away.”
Districts can also choose to begin expulsion proceedings against a student, but again, Cleaver said, if parents disagree it would go to a due process hearing.
“We’re in active cases right now battling back and forth trying to make the best placement for students,” he said. “If parents don’t agree, it becomes a legal battle. They have lawyers too for their child’s rights.”
Police, Cleaver added, and the district attorney’s office remain actively involved in the alleged hazing investigation at the middle school. Social media reports have described the incident as a sexual assault involving a broomstick, but district officials have not gone into detail on the matter.
On Monday, parents said they heard rumors the punishment was a 10-day suspension, leading to more questions on why the student or students involved were not expelled.
“It is a lot more complicated than what meets the eye,” said Lehighton solicitor Eric Filer, while addressing hypothetical situations and not the middle school incident specifically.
“For example, if a student has an IEP, they can only be suspended for 10 days total for the whole school year. A student without an IEP can be suspended longer than that.”
While most parents who spoke Monday were critical of the district’s response, another mother who said her child was a victim in the hazing incident said social media, “blew things out of proportion.”
Bernadette Rodrigues, however, told the board a lot of things are going unchecked in the middle school.
Rodrigues’ son is a special needs student who receives support through the intermediate unit, which recently escalated, she said, because “a bully is back in the district.”
She now home-schools her son.
“It was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made, knowing what my son was faced with,” Rodrigues said. “I can’t continue to put him in an environment where the administration is letting children govern themselves.”
Cleaver was also asked about a bomb threat in the district last week. He told Monday’s crowd that the district police officers were notified of a message written in a bathroom.
“The officers used video surveillance, did a sweep of the building,” Cleaver said. “The student responsible was located and the situation was handled.”