By John Chambless
The painful reality of bullying in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District confronted the school board on Feb. 18 when Bob Gibson stood up during the public comment period.
"I am a parent of two sixth-grade boys at Patton Middle School. I live outside the district, but my boys live primarily with their mother, who lives in Chadds Ford," Gibson began.
"The reason I'm here tonight is to discuss the school bullying prevention policies, how they appear to be lacking in substance, and more importantly, in application. I believe this is causing a danger not only to my kids, but to every other kid in the school district.
"Right now, my boys are home with their mother, having anxiety about going to the school bus stop tomorrow," Gibson said. "I've reached out for help to Patton assistant principal Fulginiti, principal Hoffman and also Dr. Sanville. My son was assaulted last week on the school bus. Instead of engaging the other student, he did what he was supposed to do and came home and told his mother and me. We reported it to the school.
"This student has a history of violent and erratic behavior on the bus, exposing his genitals on several occasions," Gibson told the board. "Another student has a video of this student on the bus, making fun of a boy who is overweight, calling him [names] and making fun of his last name, presumably for ethnic reasons. I alerted the school about this.
"The bully was placed back on the bus and immediately retaliated against my son. When I told the school that this was unacceptable, I got a call from Mr. Fulginiti. He told me that the kid who had called my son a [expletive] retard -- well, he tried to minimize it, saying that the student had said it to someone else, loud enough for my son to hear, but that wasn't as bad as saying it to my son. That flies in the face of any bullying policy.
"I said I didn't know what to do, except tell my boys to defend themselves. He said he advocates physical force to protect yourself. I said that's a recipe for disaster. At that point I ended the call."
His voice breaking, Gibson continued, "This is extremely upsetting for me to have to go to this length to get some kind of normal resolution for my kids."
Gibson then left the room, returning briefly to distribute a written statement to the board.
The board members seemed shaken by Gibson's emotional comments. Later in the meeting, board member Kathleen Do commented, “As a new board member two years ago, working with Dr. Sanville, I feel we were able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time, addressing many policy issues, some of which had been back-burnered for a quite a long time. The best example has been the bullying issue.
"What was described tonight really broke my heart," she continued. "But at the same time, I think it shows that the work that we've been doing is so important. What we have been saying is that if one child is being bullied, then we have a bullying problem. When we began this, people would say, 'Why are you doing this? We don't have a bullying problem here.' There is no district that is immune. I think Dr. Sanville has recognized that. We have done a lot of work, but clearly, this is work that will never be done.”
Board member Steve Simonson added, "I think all of us heard very well Mr. Gibson's statements and I look forward to hearing more about that issue in the appropriate forum."
In an e-mail follow-up with the Chester County Press, Sanville made several points:
"Mr. Gibson’s presentation to at the board meeting detailed a series of events on the bus that, according to him, had left his sixth-grade sons fearful of getting back on the bus," Sanville wrote. "He provided examples of graphic language and profane gestures that he said his sons were subjected to. It was compelling testimony.
" In response to Mr. Gibson’s statement, we viewed the videotape from his sons’ bus the next morning. A student was harassed repeatedly but it was not the scenario described by Mr. Gibson. The actual incident was entirely different from Mr. Gibson’s statement.
"The passion of a parent who thinks his children need defending may be responsible for Mr. Gibson’s request for assistance," Sanville continued. "We are satisfied that all parties involved know what their responsibilities are and understand the consequences that have been meted out."
Addressing the comment allegedly made by Fulginiti, Sanville wrote, "Mr. Gibson also reported that during a telephone conversation with Patton Middle School assistant principal James Fulginiti, the use of violence by one student toward another as a way to end the problem was suggested by Mr. Fulginiti. This is not true and did not occur."
In conclusion, Sanville wrote that the district is "committed to providing a safe environment for all students at all times. The Student Handbook outlines our student behavior guidelines -- which are met and exceeded by the vast majority of our students. However, we recognize that intimidating words and actions do sometimes occur and that we must take all necessary steps to stop them immediately."