Bullied former student says Cumberland abandoned her

Bullied former student says Cumberland abandoned her

Sarah Dube, a former Cumberland High School student, says she wants to see the district do more to enforce its rules against bullying. Dube says she was bullied for her entire senior year at CHS. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – At Cumberland High School’s Senior Oratorical speeches in April, Sarah Dube laid it all out in front of classmates, sharing how she’d written a suicide note the summer before her last year in high school.

Two students, apparently the ones mentioned but not named in Dube’s speech as the former most important people in her life who had walked out on her, turned to each other and high-fived, one then waving to the crowd as they laughed.

That story, corroborated by others who were there, was perhaps the low point in a CHS career Dube desperately wants to forget, but also wants others to know about so change can take place.

Dube acknowledges that she didn't handle everything in the best way with those former friends.

Members of the Dube family readily admit they could have addressed things a lot better during Sarah’s experience at CHS and eventual pre-graduation exit, but they’re questioning why school officials didn’t take a stronger stance against alleged bullying by other students.

Dube’s dad, John, told CHS Principal Adolfo Costa to “go f---" himself three times on graduation day, growing increasingly irate after getting a text from his daughter during commencement rehearsal asking him to pick her up. He also told Janita Ducharme and her Clef Singers to do the same, said his wife and Sarah’s mom, Karen, who works as a social worker in Pawtucket schools.

“We have nothing to hide,” Karen told The Valley Breeze of her family’s actions. If their honesty helps even one other family or brings about some sort of positive change, it will be worth it, she said.

According to Sarah, she’d texted her dad on graduation day after she saw the girl she was sitting near looking at a picture from Dube’s Instagram account and texting someone, “This is so gross.”

“I sat at rehearsal and cried the entire time,” she said.

Sarah didn’t end up walking at this year's graduation. She decided to move as far away as she could, choosing college at Florida Southern. Her family has moved there as well.

Bullying is not at all uncommon at CHS, Sarah Dube said, but “most people don’t say anything at all. It’s hard to admit being targeted, hard to put yourself in that situation.”

School officials aren’t saying much regarding the Dube situation. Asked specifically about it, School Committee Chairman Paul DiModica said he knew at graduation that there was an issue with a student and her family member.

“Physical and verbal threats were made, demands were made, and the Lincoln and CCRI Police were notified,” he said. “This happened at the walk-through before graduation.”

He added, “The superintendent normally does not release the student's name to us for confidentiality, but he informed me about the above incident. Since I don’t know the student’s name, I hesitate to comment on alleged bullying or what actions the high school took.”

Added DiModica, “The School Department addresses all instances of bullying and takes appropriate action if found.”

CHS Principal Adolfo Costa deferred comment to Supt. Bob Mitchell.

Mitchell wasn’t commenting on the specifics of the allegations.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect,” he said, whether that’s adults toward students, students toward adults, and adults or students with one another.

“That’s the expectation, and it’s something we take seriously,” he said. “Bullying is not something that we will ever tolerate, and when we hear about it, we take appropriate action.”

Heading into the 2019-2020 school year, said Mitchell, staff members are being fully trained on dealing with bullying, including responding to reported incidents.

“We have a responsibility to do the right thing,” he said.

DiModica said the School Committee has adopted a bullying policy for all students and staff.

That policy defines bullying as “the engagement of a behavior, intentional or not, in a manner that deliberately intends to infringe on the rights of the student to participate in school activities, materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of the school, exert power or control over another person resulting in physical harm or emotional distress of the victim, social embarrassment, discrimination or humiliation, the damage of their property or the placement of the victim in reasonable fear of such harm, distress, embarrassment, discrimination, humiliation or damage.”

When the policy was adopted back in 2011, it was hailed as a document that would help transform the culture in schools.

Karen Dube said she and her family were told that they would be consulted this summer as school officials planned to work on revising the policy, but they have yet to be contacted.

School Committee member Mark Fiorillo, who heads up the policy subcommittee, said that work never got off the ground because so much time was devoted this summer to the matter of canceled field trips.

In his mind, most district bullying policies are problematic, said Fiorillo, because they tend to simply follow state and federal guidelines.

“What I find is, it always comes down to the definition of what bullying is,” he said. “There’s no common definition.”

As a child, said Fiorillo, he was bullied a bit, but things were dealt with differently back then.

“We need to really focus on education of what bullying really is,” he said.

Fiorillo said in a phone message this week that he was reviewing the file on the Dube case and said there was a lot of information behind the story that he'd like to share. He could not be reached through a return call as of press time (read more on this story next week).

During the confrontation between John Dube and Principal Costa at graduation rehearsal, Sarah’s father questioned why leadership at the school didn’t do anything after the incident at the Senior Oratorical. The reply, as they recall, implied that Sarah shouldn’t have called the students out in her speech.

Dube, who had transferred into Cumberland midway through her sophomore year, said she’d previously had some similar relationship issues at St. Raphael Academy.

“My parents raised me to be my own person, and it’s hard to fit into groups when I tend to go my own way,” she said. An only child, she’s always been very independent, choosing theater over sports, and “I don’t let people push me around.” She concedes she’s sometimes hard to deal with, but is adamant that is no excuse for the treatment she endured.

Her troubles began, she said, with the fractured relationship last summer. She and her mom claim those two students, a male and a female, made her life miserable during her senior year, spreading negative stories about her with teachers and students as soon as the 2018-2019 school year began.

Dube said some students would act concerned about her and then stir up drama behind her back. Most teachers and staff didn’t want to hear about the problems, including the two she felt closest with prior to her senior year.

The student gossip would follow her home, playing out on social media, where she claims awful things were said about her appearance and abilities. Mistakes she’d made were blown out of proportion. Her choosing not to accept a role she felt uncomfortable playing in a musical turned into rumors that she’d quit because the role wasn’t big enough. She stopped being invited on outings with the Clef Singers, her life growing increasingly isolated in school and on social media.

The experience at CHS certainly played a role in wanting to move far away, said Dube. She had nothing tying her here, and with all the bad blood, she just wanted to start with a clean slate.

Karen Dube said perhaps the biggest issue in all of this was the lack of humility shown by administrators as the family pleaded for help.

“They do not possess the strength to say to one of their own students, ‘we made a mistake, we are sorry. We want to do better for the kids that will still walk our halls. Help us be better and do better,'" she said.