Alleged Cyber-bully threats stemming from Onteora Central School District High School students, toward others in the school brought out a handful of parents at the January 5 board of education meeting at Woodstock Primary School. Details are sketchy since school officials and School Board President Bobbi Schnell would not allow details to surface publicly on the matter, with Schnell describing it as an, “ongoing strong investigation.”
But parents pushed the envelope of the cyber incidents, referencing details during public commentary, with Schnell often interjecting asking them not to provide specifics. Parents voiced concern that not enough was being done punitively against the alleged cyber-bullies and that too few prevention programs exist at the Middle/High School. Parent Rivka Tadjer said, “By serendipity I have the transcripts of this cyber incident and the extent of the threats are rape, death, and are racist [of] a very big nature. So the idea that it is being categorized as bullying — I would like the Board to consider that it is bigger than bullying, that it is an actual threat to the community.” In a separate interview, Tadjer said that the incident did not happen on campus and that law enforcement was contacted.
The transcripts were printed from Instagram; six pages in all were provided to Woodstock Times and contain extremely graphic threats toward one female and her brother. It appears five students are threatening and teasing in graphic manner. Aside from detailed rape threats in the transcripts, they’re peppered with a great deal of profanity. The victim was also accused of being from ISIS, asked to leave the country, called a “dot head,” and told to strap a C4 to her chest and kill herself. Onteora does have an anti-bully policy, including cyber-bullying, that prohibits it on and off campus, during school events, with punitive actions listed. It also states, “In addition, any act of discrimination or harassment outside of school-sponsored events that can reasonably be expected to materially and substantially disrupt the educational process may be subject to discipline.”
Parent Sam Truitt said, “There’ve been other incidences, I believe, at the High School, that I’m aware of where students have been isolated, picked out and verbally assaulted and threatened.” Later during the meeting Trustee Laurie Osmond suggested having an ad-hoc committee to review the district’s preventative actions on bullying and hate crimes.
Mascot forum sought by students
Student representative Reagan Loheide reported on the petition stemming from the Human Rights club request to remove the school’s Indian mascot. “The petition was brought to us (the school government) as evidence that students and the community wanted to change the mascot,” Loheide said, “so the club will be holding forums as a result for students to discuss the issue.” She said the club plans to bring in speakers on various viewpoints for students to listen, speak and learn. “We are hoping to get people from all sorts of view-points [for] students who have concerns, considering that the mascot is something that they should take pride in and [should] be promoting acceptance and tolerance throughout the student body. The students will be able to discuss how they feel about this and what they want to do about the issue.”
“Has the student Government considered a debate?” Schnell asked.
“The Human Rights Club will set up the forum” Loheide answered. “Judging from what we feel —I don’t think a debate would be a very welcoming environment. I feel it would be better for students to openly talk about how they feel rather than determine having sides on the issue.” She is hoping there will be more than one forum, so all students can learn and be heard.
The district will hold a forum on drug addiction scheduled for Wednesday February 10 at the Boiceville campus (rescheduled for February 11 in the event of snow.)
In addition, school officials plan to attend a meeting held by a group titled Route 212 Coalition that will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 12 at Bread Alone in Woodstock.
Schnell said, “Our school, our main campus, is the common shared resource of all of the towns in our very large district and it is imperative that we serve the community on this very important, current issue, however possible with as many resources as we can.”
First budget gleanings
Budget season has arrived and Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Don Gottlieb gave the first of many 2016/17-budget reports. Currently there are no State Aid projections including the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment) that the district is expected to receive. The tax cap is set through the CPI (Consumer Price Index), and currently it is at zero-percent. However, the district should be able to raise that slightly through 2015/16 carry-over money. “I don’t think they (State Government) ever anticipated when they passed the law that it was going to be zero-percent,” Gottlieb said, “and there will be districts in the State that don’t have a carryover, so there are many districts in the State that will come up with a negative number.” Health Insurance rates have yet to be set, and salaries are projected to increase by $846,674 or 3.59 percent. Retirement contributions are estimated to decline by approximately $650,000 due to reductions in projected employer contribution rates for the Teacher Retirement System.
Too small to fail
The district had its first reading on a bank and investment policy, that, if changed, will open up the possibility of its using other banks. “There is an interesting phenomenon going on right now and it’s not unique to this district,” said Gottlieb. “The banks believe it or not, don’t want our money and Chase, which is where we keep most of our money, wants to charge us a monthly fee for keeping out deposits there. So we’ve been looking at a number of banks where we can get a better deal.” Banks must have “collateral agreements” with school districts for the sake of security in the event of a banking crisis and this can prove rather costly for smaller banks. But, he said, larger banks are not interested in smaller school districts. Gottlieb said he’s been exploring other banks and believes TD Bank might offer a better result for the district.