Updated, 9:25 p.m.: Comment from Yvette Goorevitch.
NORWALK, Conn. — Immediate action needs to be taken to address school bullying, concerned Norwalk parents said Sunday.
SpEd Partners Board members, in a letter to Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch, said it was inspired by the plight of an autistic Norwalk High School student.
Owen Lynch, 17, was labeled as a “school shooter” recently in social media after a report of a gun on the school’s premises drew Norwalk Police and inspired fear throughout the community.
“Owen Lynch is an example of what happens every day in our cruel culture,” SpEd Partners wrote. “This situation is urgent and needs Immediate attention. How do we teach acceptance to all Administrators, Educators, and students of all ages?”
Norwalk Police said on Feb. 20 that they did not find a gun in the school.
“My son has been bullied in school for years, and it just can’t go on anymore,” wrote Heather Florian, Owen’s mother, in an email to NancyOnNorwalk. “We have to do better, our children deserve better as parents, as a school system and a community. We have to say we will not put up with it. We have to start teaching our children empathy and kindness and responsibility for their actions. So let as a community stand-out stand up and say no to bullying.”
Owen is in the Academically Talented program and wants to go to college, but she is not allowing him back to Norwalk High school, Florian said.
A safety plan was developed for Owen after the incident, with social worker Rondi Olson telling Florian in a letter that administrators and teachers feel confident that Owen can safely return.
“I am not going to send him back there,” Florian said on the phone, asserting that child guidance professionals are very concerned about Owen.
Florian was very open in discussing Owen’s troubles with NancyOnNorwalk, calling them common knowledge in the community. Owen was hospitalized three times as a middle school student due to bullying, she said.
She scoffed at a letter she received Monday from Norwalk High School Principal Reginald Roberts, which said that Owen did not have a “verified” history of bullying at the elementary and middle school levels. Although Roberts reported no “written or oral reports” of acts to intimidate, harass or ridicule Owen, Florian said NPS has a discharge record from Yale New Haven Hospital stating that Owen had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to bullying.
Roberts was not available for comment late Monday.
“I am not in a position to comment on an ongoing case of an individual student—all students have very defined privacy rights that need to be honored,” Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said in an email, late Monday.
Roberts in his letter to Florian affirmed that Owen had been cyberbullied.
Owen was suspended in eighth grade after other students asked him if he could blow up a school and he said he could, Florian said. The comment stemmed from a movie the group had watched, and Owen was asked if he had super powers like an onscreen character, she explained.
A judge threw out the case in 15 minutes and Owen was given an out-of-district placement, she said. But Owen requested to came back to NHS as a freshman because he wants to be challenged, Florian said.
“He was doing fairly well until this year,” she said.
He’s been called “school bomber,” and two months ago students reported him as a drug dealer, she said.
“He was searched on two occasions,” Florian wrote. “I was called on both and the minute he was called out of class his picture began to circulate. There have been videos with his head edited on to an animated body, with a gun. Lots of messages sent to him asking why he had a gun or if he had a gun, and in middle school Owen would be followed home by bullies. On one incident someone threw a rock at him, hitting him in the head and causing him to bleed.”
“”Looking forward to partnering with SPED Partners on this critical issue,” Goorevitch said Tuesday in an email. “I will move it to the PAC-e agenda.”
PAC-e is the Special Ed Advisory Council that Goorevitch meets with monthly.
Goorevitch on Feb. 25 released a statement in response to the NHS incident and the recent massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Since the Norwalk High “shelter in place” incident, “a flurry of social media has taken place,” Goorevitch wrote. “Students and adults, in an unkind way, began to target a student online. Knowing the situation firsthand, I know that some of the commentary contained facts, while other parts are just that — commentary and opinion. Either way, a digital footprint is difficult to erase.”
Multiple SpEd parents contacted NancyOnNorwalk on Monday to emphasize that action needs to be taken.
“We are concerned for the safety of our children and need immediate action. The immediate actions needs to also include the effects of Cyberbullying. Perhaps we can also look into implementing additional programs such as SandyHook promise and circle of friends,” Sophia Aponte wrote.
“I think it’s disgusting what the BOE is doing to Owen and his mother. Alternative schooling that is known by hear-say to be the ‘bad kids school’. Again….disgusting!!” Jodi DellaVentura wrote.
Nothing was done when her now-22-year-old son was bullied in Norwalk Public Schools, and it looks like that’s the continued pattern, DellaVentura said.
“If my son wasn’t pushed up against the locker, bullied for his iPhone, made fun of daily and told to chalk it up to kids being kids (said by administrators), then I don’t know what you would call bullying,” DellaVentura said. “If this is how teachers think it will make kids stronger then why don’t they come to the child’s home after school and in the evening and middle of night when that child is crying hysterically saying they don’t want to return to school or even worse, they don’t want to live anymore.”
“My son made it through high school by the skin of his teeth,” she wrote. “Most young adults say how they enjoyed their high school years after they have graduated. Unfortunately, my son can’t say that. What he continuously talks about is how nobody did anything. Something has got to give with the district not only from within the BOE, but school based. They talk about a zero tolerance level being about. To parents it is a complete joke.”
“As you know, bullying is nationwide. Adults & children,” Lori Keegan wrote. “Bullies go after the most vulnerable…the quiet, the soft spoken, the awkward, the obese, kids with big ears or crooked teeth, the ones with physical disabilities.”
She continued, “While I don’t know all the details about Owen….I don’t blame him for not wanting to go back to school. He’s not accepted and is an easy target. Bullies enjoy tormenting kids like Owen.”
Keegan said she got involved when “Bart Palosz committed suicide after years of bullying and the Greenwich Public Schools doing absolutely nothing!”
“A law is in place but are schools following the law?! I doubt it,” she wrote.
“To an isolated kid, school can feel like a torturous social minefield,” SpEd Partners Co-Chairman Margaret Kozlark wrote. “It takes just a few seconds to smile or say hello to someone, but it can turn that person’s day around. We all need to be a bit kinder and more understanding and that applies to adults as well as kids!”
Kozlark said that she and SpEd Partners Co-Chairman Eric Neiderer met Monday with Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Goorevitch “to discuss the SPED budget and other topics including the need for programs to celebrate differences and increase empathy.”
The meeting was encouraging, with Goorevitch and Adamowski saying they want to create culture of inclusivity that celebrates differences, Kozlark explained on the phone.
She had been told that a student was disciplined because of the bullying Owen received due to the report of a gun at Norwalk High School, she said.
“We kept saying this isn’t just a Special Education problem… this could be a kid who is just incredibly introverted or socially awkward. Nobody should feel alone or targeted or in school,” Kozlark said.
SpEd Partners in its letter suggested school assemblies where enlightening videos could be shown, training that is available via a government website, and the formation of a parent committee.
“Tolerance, difference and acceptance is not taught in our Norwalk Public Schools. We believe this needs to start at the Administration Level in our Elementary Schools,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, it has been overlooked for years, ostracizing our most vulnerable children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, leaving them friendless and bullied in the corner, misunderstood, feared and blamed… We are asking for an IMMEDIATE CALL TO ACTION. Not in a month, Today!”
“I know there are essential steps we are taking to heal as a community, with special sensitivity to students with disabilities and their families,” Goorevitch wrote on Feb. 25, going on to list action steps that include a respect for the safety protocols that have been developed and relaying plans to improve Special Education, such as a new Best Buddies chapter.
Neiderer on Monday evening released a statement from himself and his wife, Gloira Neiderer:
“Differences should be embraced and make us stronger as a people and society. Celebrating the richness and diversity of differences, with its benefits and challenges, can propel us into a brighter future. Unfortunately, a lack of empathy, compassion and understanding, hallmarks of bigotry, ignorance and fear, causes kids to become adults with a lack of empathy, compassion and understanding. Painfully we see this in how adults interact with each other everyday in inappropriate ways. Let us make every effort to use tragedies and incidents as learning experiences. Learning experiences in understanding, empathy and compassion, not a reaction of fear. Let us help prevent them through building relationships among ourselves and with those who feel such hopelessness and isolation so they feel vested in society. Isolating and ostracizing breeds fear and mistrust. Let us use empathy, whether innate or learned, to guide us in our interactions with each other. I applaud any actions by the District, Norwalk leaders and community as a whole toward the goal of developing understanding, compassion and empathy in our kids and by our kids so hopefully they will be better adults than us for our future.”