A classroom assault in which a 16-year-old girl was struck in the head three times at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School last week led to assault and battery charges against an 18-year-old girl and her suspension from school.
Meanwhile, the family of the victim is considering legal action against the school.
The victim’s mother described her daughter as “torn apart” and too fearful to go back to school in a call to the Gazette soon after the incident. Her daughter had been making progress since moving to the Island in October, the mother said, and had made friends with a group of girls who then turned on her. Now the girls were throwing dog bones at her daughter, calling her racist and other offensive names in person and online, and threatening to “cut” her and beat her up.
The girl did go back to school this week for two days, but when a story appeared in Monday’s Boston Herald describing the incident, students taunted her with it — though she had not been named — saying she “made the Island look bad.” In online comments, one reader did name the victim.
She was escorted through the halls by a staff member when she returned to school, but the girl nevertheless felt threatened and is no longer attending classes or even going out alone, her mother said yesterday.
Her mother said she and her husband are now considering legal action against the school.
“They are supposed to protect her while she is there,” the mother said. “My daughter cannot get an education because they cannot stop the bullying.”
The victim’s family filed the charges and a no trespass order for their property the mother said, adding: “It’s criminal, what’s going on.” The mother said assistant principal Neal Weaver told her that unless the assault was on a teacher, the school would not go to police.
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss confirmed this week that there was an incident that involved one girl assaulting another. “The girl who was the aggressor in that incident was suspended, and we strongly suggested to the family of the girl who was assaulted that they seek a stay-away order. The incident was reported to the police. The high school responded immediately and appropriately,” Mr. Weiss said.
He said the girl who was suspended has a history of problems in school and with police. The Oak Bluffs police report indicates there was a warrant out of Barnstable district court on the 18-year-old girl for an assault and battery charge.
According to the police report on the high school incident, the girls were fighting over articles of clothing that had not been returned to either party.
Mr. Weiss also said: “There is a group of students at the high school who have bullying and aggression issues. It is not widespread, it is a small group.
“But there are kids who are being bullied. Our biggest problem on the Island is with cyberbullying. It is a big issue here.”
Michael McCarthy, a high school guidance counselor, said yesterday that in any bullying incident the guidance staff, which is not involved in disciplinary action, meets with both sides to ensure the victims have support and the bullies are aware of how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. The counseling could involve several different staff members and outside agencies, as well as parents of kids involved.
In instances where the harassment included social networking or texting, Mr. McCarthy said the school had dealt with Facebook to have pages taken off the site.
“Can it be disruptive to a student’s education? It definitely can,” Mr. McCarthy said about bullying in general. “So we take it very seriously. We are trying to create a nice educational environment and I think the majority of kids — though not all — feel it is.”
In an unnamed comment about the story posted on the Boston Herald Web site, one person wrote, “This is my second year at MVRHS and I can honestly say I’ve never felt threatened in school, at all, period,” adding: “I am absolutely positive this got blown out of proportion.”
Another said: “I am a 16-year-old student at this school and I am sick of the bullying. Not just here, but everywhere. I strongly disagree with how the public is saying it’s going to turn out like the South Hadley School incident, we are nothing like that here, all the kids are in a controlled environment and the school district does a good job with keeping us safe, but I agree with how the girl that did this should be expelled, and we really need to do something about all of this bullying because it’s not even half as bad here as it is for other schools.”
One who wrote as a 17-year-old student at MVRHS said: “First of all, I’d just like to say that 80 per cent of the school had no idea that this even happened, this has been made into a way bigger deal than it should have been. Second of all, the guidance department at our school is awesome . . .”
Another person posting as a Vineyard student agreed the situation had been exaggerated, criticizing the victim’s past behavior as well, adding: “Catty girl behavior as well as foul, abusive language happens nonstop in the halls of MVRHS — not just by this group of girls, but by the student body as a whole . . . The student body, faculty and administration all need to address the foul language, behavior and punishments for all the students.”
Others wrote that bullying happened in their middle schools but no one did anything because it was not politically correct to punish those who bullied.
One writing as a Vineyard parent added, “This is just so shocking! How embarrassing for our community! I truly believed that we the ‘Islanders’ had a special community full of kindness. As a parent, a taxpayer, and a volunteer to our special community I am heartbroken.”
Mr. McCarthy said, however, the Boston Herald article had not led to an outpouring of calls from parents. The victim’s mother said no one from the families of the other girls involved had made any effort to contact her to help sort out their children’s problems.
The girl involved wrote her own comment, thanking those who had supported her for speaking out. She noted that others had called her action of speaking to the press a cry for help. Yes it was, she responded, but that did not make the harassment okay. “I didn’t do anything for this to happen to me,” she wrote.