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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Margaret Mace Board Reviewing Bullying Complaint

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By Christopher South

NORTH WILDWOOD – The North Wildwood Board of Education returned from closed session, Dec. 20, with Superintendent Christopher Armstrong saying the findings of a Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB-338) report would he sent to the parents involved before the holidays.
The HIB report was generated by a complaint from parents who chose to pull their daughter out of the Margaret Mace Public School allegedly due to the bullying and harassment of their daughter by a male student. Charlie and Mellissa Hook were involved in a protest, Nov. 30, of the school and what they considered its inaction to address their concerns about bullying.
Addressing the board’s action on the HIB, School Board Solicitor Robert Belasco said the parents of the students involved in the HIB will be notified of the findings. However, Belasco said, the individual matters involving incidents, involving individuals, and matters involving students are confidential and would not be discussed in the meeting.
“So, there’s not going to be a discussion about an incident involving individual students, or one student, or multiple students. It’s not appropriate. It’s confidential by law,” Belasco said.
He said the anti-bullying harassment intimidation policy that Superintendent Christopher Armstrong referred to earlier outlines the procedures that are followed when an incident is reported. It outlines the basis of the investigation that takes place and once that investigation is concluded, the findings are presented to the board. Belasco said the findings are reported to the parents by Armstrong in writing within five business days.
Belasco said the five business days run into the winter break, and would take the matter into the new year, but Armstrong said he would get the letter out before then.
Charlie Hook asked if the school district had provided any updates to the policy since Mallory’s Law was passed Jan. 17. Mallory’s Law provides civil penalties for parents who fail to control bullying or cyber-harassment by their children. The law is named for Mallory Grossman, who at age 12, took her own life in 2017, apparently as the result of relentless online bullying. Mallory’s law updates the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. It says districts must include in anti-bullying policies the specific consequences for a student harassing, intimidating, or bullying a schoolmate. The law also requires superintendents to provide school boards with data on all reports that meet the statutory definition of bullying.
Hook attempted to ask Carolyn Morey, the Supervisor of Public Personnel and Supervisor of the Child Study Team, if the school district policy had been amended to reflect Mallory’s Law. However, Belacso interjected and said the public comment time was for comments, rather than questions. “You can certainly provide your comments,” Belasco said.
Armstrong said the school’s HIB policy was updated in September. Hook said it seemed that every school in the region was adopting the law as a policy without adapting it to their particular school’s situation. He asked Armstrong to send him a copy of the school policy and to highlight where Mallory’s Law had been incorporated. “All the schools in the area just rubber stamp their name at the top of the page and didn’t really bother going over it,” he said.
The Hooks feel the administration at Margaret Mace is simply jumping through administrative hoops to stay within state guidelines concerning HIB. They decided to pull their daughter out of Margaret Mace and enroll her at Wildwood Catholic Academy.
Melissa Hook took part in a meeting at Family Court last week, which included her daughter and the student who appeared in a video posted on social media, displaying a handgun, and allegedly making threats. Hook said she was going to get a recording of the meeting, saying the boy in question accused her of making a racial slur toward him, although the arbitrator, Shirley Robinson, seemed to disregard his statement. However, Hook alleged she was scolded by Robinson for participating in a protest outside the school.
“I was being treated like a criminal,” she said.
According to an article previously published by the Herald, the offending student had told the Hooks’ daughter he would “blow her brains out.” The North Wildwood Police confirmed that the boy was charged with making terroristic threats. The Hooks said the charges were reduced in Family Court to simple assault and disorderly conduct.
For the Hooks, the matter is not as much about charging the juvenile as it is the school administration following the law and protecting the children who attend the school. They said Mallory’s Law prescribed what actions must take place and in what time frame once there has been an HIB incident observed. Under the law, a parent or guardian has the right to report incidences of HIB using a form that is provided on the school’s website.
If it is determined that the student has committed an act of HIB, the district can require students to participate in counseling, receive behavioral intervention services, or be disciplined. The principal will determine appropriate corrective measures in consultation with the applicable school staff. The reporting parents do not necessarily have access to the terms of the action taken by the school district.
Charlie Hook said he would like the district and administration to follow the law.

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