Norwalk parents urge action — now — to ease school bullying

Owen Lynch, 17, in a recent social media post. Owen and his family decided to release the photo “to use it to turn the discussion around in a positive manner by drawing attention to the bullying crisis our Community faces,” Heather Florian, Owen’s mother said in an email. “We are very proud of a Owen for wanting to stand up for himself and all the other kids being bullied.”

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.”

Sped Partners 18-0305


Diane Lauricella March 6, 2018 at 8:17 am

Important article.
Suggestion: Utilize the District’s much-touted written antibullying and civility policy….print it out, distribute widely and ask to appear before BOE Chair Heidi Keyes’ next Policy Committee on agenda for amendments if needed and enforcement action steps.

V March 6, 2018 at 8:50 am

Disgusting, failure on all involved. Where are is the responsible leadership?
Verified bullying? You know what happens when you report the bullies -they just come back harder. I know, I was victimized my entire life.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 6, 2018 at 8:51 am

What is missing from the SpEd Partners call for action is any effort outside the schools aimed at reducing school bullying. I have seen the social media comments about this student, and they are inexcusable. I’ve also seen a few remarks by one parent, who was familiar with the middle school bomb threats and seemed to misunderstand the fine points between “if you see something, say something” and bullying. What I saw on social media looked like bullying. When the mother mentioned this on the closed page, Norwalk Parents for Education, I immediately suggested the appropriate way to stop this is parent to parent. The parent of the bullied child goes to the parent of the bullying child and has a talk. Instead, what we have here is fairly typical—let’s blame the Board of Ed for everything, and let’s demand that the Board of Ed apply some tax dollars towards fixing the problem. The means by which all of these problems are addressed—essentially societal problems—is now via the Public Schools. There are other budget neutral solutions. While it may be in the best interests of both this child and the NPS to outplace, outplacements are extremely costly, burdening the taxpayers with per pupil costs five times (or more) the cost of a regular education. I know that SpEd parents object to my use of the word “burdening”. And I apologize if that word offends. But I can’t think of a better word to express the problems that have arisen as a result of IDEA and other unfunded mandates. We all want every child to feel safe and welcome in schools. We support early interventions to help students catch up with their peers. But when the public schools are expected to provide the kinds of services that used to be provided via closer knit communities and private organizations, like churches, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc, there is bound to be some backlash from taxpayers.

Ironically, the page on which most of the back and forth has taken place is probably the number one worst place on social media in the City of Norwalk for online bullying. The principal administrator of this page, Norwalk Parents for Education, is Barbara Meyer-Mitchell. Ms. Meyer-Mitchell has not only singled out “certain behaviors” and “a few people” for public rebuke, but has also failed collassaly to rein in bullying that occurs among the subset of SpEd parents who often dominate that page. It is unconscionable for an elected official to engage in selective censorship on a page of over 3300 members (at last count—a figure of which Ms. Meyer-Mitchell is duly proud).

Children learn about bullying at home. Anyone who’d like to learn more about social media bullying need look no further than the Norwalk Parents for Education page, which long ago gave up its mission to promote the NPS and devolved into a platform for angry screeds against the BOE and requests for special favors and shortcuts from the BOE admin, Ms. Meyer-Mitchell.

Full disclosure—I was removed from the NPfE page without warning and without explanation. And while I’m certain those who routinely objected to my posts will chime in quickly to defend NPfE, I’m also certain that there are plenty of bullies on that page who continue to deride others with the goal of silencing their opinions.

Laurie March 6, 2018 at 9:12 am

Bullying has existed in schools forever and we will never remove it; we can, however, temper it.
This can’t be a top-down effort at the high and middle schools. You’ve got to get the students involved. You need to have student input and perspective or else it will be just be something else you’re forcing them to listen to and they’ll tune you out. Give them a voice and listen to them.

NPS taxpayer March 6, 2018 at 9:32 am

It has to have everyone involved. When the teachers and administration bully certain kids, a some have, it provides a green light for students to engage in the same shameful behavior.

Bryan Meek March 6, 2018 at 10:46 am

It’s interesting to me that the first poster advocates using resources that personally she’s not willing to see allocated to the school system for the current budget cycle. Or at least that’s how I understood her plea to have the school’s budget cut. Maybe we should re-open the print shop and just print the cash needed to pay for all the security guards, communications programs, social workers, etc… Of course we’d print the money on recycled paper.

Niz March 6, 2018 at 1:31 pm

My kid attends NHS and is SPED Anxiety disorder Depression ADHD & Rondi Olson, Yvette G or the D house Ed singleton have failed to provide the needed services. Even with IEE’s and well understood PPT’s, 4 for this school year
They really don’t care and will not unless legal action is taken. I know many SPED parents and they go through this too… just about all of us, from roton middle schools failed success program to NHs Shameful! My kid read the hour article about Owens experiences and ‘mom, I go through that too’

Al Bore March 6, 2018 at 1:49 pm

We can stop it and we must stop it, report it to the teacher and the principle and if he or she does not do their job to STOP the bulling they should be fired by the superintendent. The bullies can be stopped they are usually just cowards trying to impress someone. There is no such thing as it can’t be stopped, it can be stopped and must be stopped. If all else fails seek legal advise, I would not normally say that however there is no place for bulling in school or anywhere else for that matter and it should not be tolerated ever.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 6, 2018 at 2:40 pm

@Bryan Meek, I don’t believe social media bullying of the kind this student was subjected to is necessarily the responsibility of the BOE and Dr. Adamowski. If the page where the bullying occurred is administrated by the NPS, the schools have a duty. Whatever that duty is is no replacement for parental involvement and appropriate modeling from parents.

Kathleen March 6, 2018 at 11:02 pm

@Donna. Interesting that you use this article to harass and denigrate Barbara Meyer-Mitchell. Those are forms of bullying BTW.

TT March 6, 2018 at 11:11 pm

No building administrator wants to admit there is bullying in their school, or any discipline issues for that matter. Until they admit that it happens, it will never be addressed, along with the other general discipline issues that are never addressed, especially in the elementary schools. Maybe if some of these issues are addressed there, we wouldn’t see as many issues in the middle and high schools.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 6, 2018 at 11:33 pm

@Kathleen, Barbara Meyer Mitchell is an elected member of the BOE. It’s not bullying. It’s accountability. Unsurprising a defender would conflate the two. Consistent with the illogic that informs that page. Sad if the BOE defers to that group for any line item in the budget.

Concerned March 7, 2018 at 8:50 am

I do not know how they can propose cutting counselors in schools and think the issue of bullying will get anything other than worse.

Concerned March 7, 2018 at 1:57 pm

And to clarify things that are said on social media that impact students in school is the responsibility of the schools. The laws have changed .

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 7, 2018 at 7:30 pm

@Concerned, the schools have been playing this role for years in fact. However, this does not absolve parents from responsibility for the actions of their minor children. The fact that it’s law doesn’t mean parents take a pass. And when they model some pretty execrable behavior themselves on social media, is it any wonder the kids follow suit?

Concerned March 8, 2018 at 3:09 pm

I totally agree with you Donna. I think parents should be the first line of defense and should model appropriate behaviors for their children. Unfortunately often times this is not the case and as we have seen as of late in our country and surrounding towns is some very scary outcomes. I am shocked that NPS does not recognize the value of mental health professionals and is eliminating six counselors from the schools next year. It frankly makes me frightened for my children and I am a parent who does model the right behavior for my children. This article talks about creating a culture for all to feel included and to assist those feeling isolated but they are cutting away the resources that help to do this. Sadly I guess they will just wait for the next crisis situation to happen .

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