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Livid Bedford School District parents demanded change from the Board of Education and administrators last week after details emerged about the circulation of images and videos of naked special education students at Fox Lane High School.
A succession of parents, including some whose children were victimized, made emotional pleas, charging that school officials failed to notify parents even though they were made aware of the incidents.
The photos and videos were taken in December and in March in one of the school’s boys’ bathrooms and distributed over social media. About two weeks ago, parents of some of the impacted students created a flyer, which was circulated in the community and through social media, posting a $1,000 reward for information about the individuals responsible, said parent Karen Close.
Close tearfully disclosed at the packed Apr. 6 Board of Education meeting at Fox Lane Middle School that her autistic son had been one of the victims. She said the district failed its most vulnerable students and their families.
An internal investigation by the school resulted in finding no evidence that the events occurred, so the impacted families created the flyer with the reward, according to Close.
“The current antibullying programs and procedures at our school put in place to report and handle these very situations were ineffective and all failed,” Close said. “The key here that caught the attention of one of the other impacted families is what brought this issue to light. This is when parents promptly brought this to school administrators. The bathroom incident had been reported to the school, yet the school administration failed to inform the potentially impacted families until the families brought it to them.”
Another parent whose son was victimized, Giovanni Piccolino, said many of the students are non-verbal and cannot defend themselves, ask for help or report incidents of wrongdoing.
Piccolino said the administration had failed on multiple levels and must investigate the matter to the fullest extent. He also urged the board to do a better job of overseeing the administration.
“As board members you have both the burden and the privilege to see behind the wizard’s curtain, to ensure this matter is handled properly and thoroughly,” Piccolino said. “I implore you to be the watchdogs of the administration, to ensure that the policies that are in place are implemented and to hold them accountable when there is a breakdown.”
In addition to the school district, the matter is still being investigated by the Bedford Police Department.
Other district parents, many of whom have children who are special education students but were not involved in the bathroom incidents, were equally outraged as details surfaced. They argued that the district and its special education department have neglected to adequately address the needs of those students.
Parent Kristine Stoker said the district has focused much time on equity but with about 650 special education students those children and their families are given short shrift.
Stoker said the amount of time between the incidents being reported and parents being forced to take matters into their own hands “is unconscionable.”
“The administration’s incompetence and utter lack of professionalism is embarrassing, but most importantly, should be dealt with by the board,” Stoker said. “There is no sense of urgency anywhere that I have seen in this district.”
The board and administration listened to the comments without addressing the issue.
Some who spoke called on the board to suspend the search for the new director of special education until the incoming superintendent, Dr. Robert Glass, takes over from Dr. Joel Adelberg, who is retiring on June 30. The current director, Deborah Dormady, is leaving at the end of this school year and interviews of candidates are underway.
School officials agreed to postpone the second round of interviews, scheduled for Apr. 19, until after the Board of Education meets again the following evening.
Board Vice President Edward Reder urged his colleagues to schedule a forum where special education issues, including information about the director search, special education in general and the bathroom incidents are addressed.
A little earlier in the meeting, former board member Pam Harney blasted the board for failing to answer her questions. She was told by Board President John Boucher that a Q&A with the board during public comments at meetings was discontinued earlier this school year.
Reder said the special education challenges are too complex to be discussed in a board meeting Q&A. A separate forum would afford community members and parents who didn’t attend last week’s meeting the chance to participate.
“This is a topic that’s very important to the community, to the administration, to the board,” he said. “We need to have a discussion in a much more collaborative session. I don’t think this is the right forum to be doing that.”
Board member Steven Matlin proposed a resolution for the district to hire an independent third party to determine whether the current policies and procedures can be improved and what more can be done to ensure the safety and the privacy of all students, but with a focus on protecting special education students.
The board unanimously approved the resolution.
“We cannot sit by any longer waiting for another unspeakable event to happen,” Matlin said. “This board has an obligation to every current and future Bedford Central School District student to do everything in our power to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/