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Parents and community members angered by a sluggish response by Bedford School District officials to images of naked special education students being circulated again confronted the Board of Education last week demanding change.
During the Apr. 20 board meeting that included several testy exchanges, parents aggressively questioned school officials on the district’s plans to protect special education students in the future and make sure they aren’t shunned as multiple parents have charged.
The Bedford Police Department is still investigating the incidents from earlier this school year that came to light in late March. There were multiple images of special education students taken in a boys’ bathroom at Fox Lane High School and spread on social media.
Parents of the victimized students and their advocates have charged that the administration failed to take swift action once they learned of the deplorable events. One parent, Joseph Filippone, said he didn’t understand “the absence of humanity” on the part of school officials.
“These events are unthinkable and how we deal with this is a direct reflection on the kind of school district we’ve become and the kind of school district we want to be,” said Filippone, whose daughter is a Fox Lane graduate but knows several of the victims.
“When the administration sidelines, and worse, ignores the well-being of our special ed students, what do we think the other students are going to do?” he continued.
Another parent, Karen Close, whose son was one of the victims, said it was a parent of the victimized students that forced the district to confront the matter. Last month, several parents banded together to offer a $1,000 reward for information, which resulted in some students stepping forward.
She said that some of the images that had been circulated may have been taken as early as September, six months before the district addressed the matter.
At the Apr. 6 board meeting, school trustees unanimously approved the hiring of a third-party investigator to launch an inquiry into the matter. She called on officials to include parents, teachers, students, administrators and board members to work collaboratively.
“It may be easy for most people to move forward from this and say how can we prevent it from ever happening again,” she said. “I must believe that there is no one who would not support (the district) to be aggressive and immediately identify preventing this and any form of bullying going forward.”
Before parents spoke, Board President John Boucher read a prepared statement saying that the board and the administration condemned the actions and has been fully cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation.
“The superintendent and every school board member take your concerns very seriously,” Boucher said. “No amount of policies and procedures can prevent every potential problem but we are committed to doing everything in our power to make our schools as safe and secure as can possibly be for every student.”
Some parents were irked that the statement seemed insincere and that the board wouldn’t answer questions.
Board member Steven Matlin said he felt the parents’ pain, but as an attorney he was struggling between wanting to discuss the matter further and using better judgment.
“I would urge you to understand that we are taking this seriously,” said Matlin, who had urged for the third-party investigation. “I promise you not only as a board member who will be here for the next two years and who is going to serve on the subcommittee that we will take this independent investigation as seriously as we can.”
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/