This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
What happened to an eighth-grader in the Peninsula School District Feb. 2 wasn’t – as teacher his teacher described it – “horseplay.” If the mobile phone videos aren’t taking the episode out of context, it’s more like cruel bullying, verging on child abuse.
The boy is dragged around a classroom, then held down under chairs and taunted by at least a dozen other bigger students at Kopachuck Middle School. His socks are stripped off. One is stuffed in his mouth and a pillow placed over his face.
He cries out for the bullies to stop, yet they continue for more than 15 minutes.
Where’s the teacher, John Rosi? At one point, he is mugging for the cameras. According to reporter Sean Robinson, “Rosi pokes the boy in the stomach, pretends to sit on him, points his rear toward the boy’s face and says, ‘I’m feeling kind of gassy.’”
The video, compiled from footage that students shot on their mobile phones, is shocking. It’s reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies” – except there’s a grownup around who should have been enforcing the rules. It reportedly happened during a math and reading class, not in a locker room where boys often horse around while the coach isn’t watching.
The teacher’s punishment? Ten days of unpaid suspension. Rosi agreed not to contest the discipline to his union in exchange for not being terminated from his $74,000-a-year job.
In fairness to him, we don’t know the whole story. It takes some imagination to put this in a charitable light, but Rosi is conceivably a capable teacher who simply had a disastrous lapse of judgment – in front of the cameras, no less.
Let’s look beyond the individual to the school district’s handling of the case.
A few questions:
• Why weren’t the boy’s parents allowed to weigh in on Rosi’s punishment?
• Were the appropriate authorities informed of the incident?
• Did the school district discipline the bullies involved and require them to get counseling?
• Were parents informed about their children’s behavior?
The bullied boy was so distraught, he reportedly told his mother he wanted to die. His parents are now paying for him to attend a private school due to what they see to be a lack of support from the district. Peninsula, like most districts, has an anti-bullying policy. But tough talk about bullying means nothing if it’s not backed up with serious discipline.
While the agreement with Rosi was signed by the former superintendent, Terry Bouck, the current acting superintendent seems comfortable with the way the incident was handled. “We feel like we appropriately dealt with it,” said Chuck Cuzzetto.
A jury might disagree after seeing that video. The parents are seeking a criminal investigation, and the district could face a civil lawsuit as well. The district – not just the teacher – failed a vulnerable child.