By KATHERINE CLARK
CLAYTON A week after the apparent suicide of a Thousand Islands Central School student, more than 100 students and parents packed a special Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, many expressing frustration with the problem of bullying.
Amy J. Briggs, mother of 16-year-old Daniel J. Briggs, who died on March 3, said after the meeting that she was shocked by the number of people who came to support her son and to share their own experiences with what they said was a pervasive problem that the school has failed to stop.
Im not laying the blame at the feet of anyone. Thats not the point, Mrs. Briggs said during the meeting, describing how her son suffered constant bullying since elementary school.
She said she wants to work with the district to make sure something positive comes from her sons death so other children arent driven to take their own life.
Others were not so sparing in their criticism of the district.
Amanda Bickford, a mother with two students, said educators should be ashamed of the consequences of turning a blind eye to bullying.
Weve trusted you with our children; families have come here 50 or 60 times; Ive come here 10 times asking for help, Ms. Bickford told school board members.
She said that her own children have been bullied persistently by classmates, and that the Briggss tragedy could have happened to her own family.
Taylin Fulmer, 16, said the school failed students by not providing access to counselors after Daniels death. She said that like Daniel, she also has been a victim of bullying and has received no help from the school. She said school personnel told her that her claims were unfounded, and that she should simply find a new group of friends and hope for the best.
Another student, junior Ember E. Garland, said she sees people being bullied all the time. When is this going to end? she said.
Kelsey Morak told of being shoved, inappropriately touched by a male senior and having someone spit in her lunch. Something needs to change, she said.
Im 15, and I can already see it all goes back to how kids are raised, Kelsey said. I just dont get how kids can be so mean.
Kristina Randazzo Ives said before the meeting that she had heard from the district for the first time only that day about a complaint she made two months ago about her child being bullied.
We need to figure out and put in place things that we can do to help bullies find out what their issues are, help our children defend themselves, make our school council responsible for their actions instead of trying to sweep it under the rug by addressing it today before the school board meeting because now they are under investigation, Ms. Ives said. Im sure there are plenty of parents out there right now that are going through the same thing, havent gotten any returned phone calls and doesnt know the situation. Were those kids punished or were they even talked to?
Ms. Ives later said it was good to have the discussion, but she was concerned about what will happen down the road.
Superintendent Frank C. House said the district has two anti-bullying programs, Making Healthy Choices and Report a Bully. He said the district is also implementing a third program, Sources of Strength, an anti-bully training program for staff and students.
He said there were good comments made during the meeting and the board would look into the residents concerns. School board members listened but did not speak during the forum.
Mrs. Briggs said she plans to come back to the school often. She said she would ask for more from the Board of Education in the way of punishment for children who harass others.
After years of being tormented by a group of bullies, her son seemed to be feeling better, she said. He was excited about school and said he wanted to pursue a career as a Department of Environmental Conservation officer.
But, she said, the abuse must have become too much for him. Mrs. Briggs said her son had been shoved into lockers, pushed into a wall in a stairway, once had food thrown at him during lunch and was subjected to online bullying.
Citing the investigation into her sons death, Mrs. Briggs said that she wouldnt comment on why he was being bullied, but that some of the cruelest messages indicated it wasnt worth it for him to live.
The last image of our son shouldnt be what it is, Mrs. Briggs said. The old adage that kids can be cruel is true, and the old adage that sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt isnt true.
At the end of the meeting, a moment of silence was taken in honor of Daniel.