Allegations suggest bullying also a problem among staff, not just students

Allegations suggest bullying also a problem among staff, not just students

‘Somebody’s got to take a stand,’ says parent Jacob Carpenter

SCITUATE – Local parents and their children say bullying in the Scituate school system doesn’t just involve students.

“There’s a pervasive bullying problem in Scituate,” said Joe Maggiacomo, whose daughter Chiara now attends school in Dartmouth, Mass., after experiencing bullying at Clayville Elementary School and Hope Elementary School. “It’s not just the kids.”

The Valley Breeze & Observer spoke with several parents, including Town Council President John Mahoney, who said their children have been bullied by the staff too.

Their accounts come a month after the Observer first published the stories of children who said they experienced a growing bullying problem in the school district.

The past and present students described taunting in the hallways, harassment via social media, and a lack of response from the school.

Now parents say this culture starts with the staff, namely Scituate Middle and High School Vice Principal David Sweet.

“It’s the vice principal bullying the kids, but he gets away with it,” Robert Piver said.

Piver said his daughter, currently in 11th grade at Scituate High School, has been targeted by Sweet since she was a freshman.

“She’s had issues since she first started 9th grade,” Piver said. “He harasses my daughter.”

In a recent incident, according to Piver, his daughter was cited by Sweet for violating the school dress code.

“He dress-coded her, she goes to guidance, and guidance said, ‘For what?’” Piver said. “It’s years of her being targeted like this.”

Piver said discipline is unevenly doled out and largely depends on favoritism.

“You’ve got parents who have been here for generations and they’re pulling their kids out because of this,” he said.

Parent Jacob Carpenter said his son was also unfairly targeted by Sweet.

According to a Sept. 27 police report, Carpenter informed School Resource Officer Richard Parenti that he was concerned with the “aggressive” discipline style of the assistant principal.

Carpenter told Parenti that when his son was sent to Sweet’s office for an alleged classroom infraction on Sept. 25, the vice principal confronted him.

“Mr. Sweet put his face within inches of (my son’s) face. Mr. Sweet did not allow (my son) to speak, preventing (him) from denying the allegation, and bullying (him) into confessing,” he said, according to the report.

The report continues: “Mr. Sweet spoke to (my son) in a disrespectful tone, using foul language, saying he ‘was not hearing any of (my son’s) bull----.’”

Sweet did not respond to a request for comment.

Scituate Police Chief Donald Delaere said the department is not investigating the complaint further.

“We forward the documentation to the superintendent and they handle it in-house on their end,” Delaere said.

Supt. Lawrence Filippelli would not discuss the allegations involving Sweet, explaining that it was “a confidential personnel issue.” He stated that the school takes bullying allegations seriously and is currently working on improving conditions.

Carpenter said he did not file the report until he began to receive calls from other Scituate parents telling him his son was innocent and did not need to be punished.

Instead, the parents told him, “My kid says your kid is being bullied,” not by other students, but by school officials.

That motivated Carpenter to speak with his son about what really happened in Sweet’s office on Sept. 25, and when he did, he filed the report.

“Somebody has got to take a stand,” Carpenter said. “The mentality down there is the kids are the problem.”

In a letter to the Scituate Town Council, Crystal Carpenter describes how her son felt during the interaction with Sweet.

“He was quickly shut down by Mr. Sweet when he leaned in towards my child from his chair and said, ‘He was not hearing any of his ----ing bull----.’ My child responded with ‘OK.’ He was feeling nervous, intimidated and at this point feeling bullied by Mr. Sweet.”

She added, “I see many parents of students at SMS going public about student-to-student bullying, but this will never change with the current leadership at SMS.”

Carpenter said Sweet was off school grounds from Wednesday, Sept. 27, through Friday, Sept. 29, following the incident. The following Monday, Sweet was back at his post.

“He basically took a vacation. Other than that, they won’t tell me what the disciplinary action was,” Carpenter said. “I feel like I have a right to know but I was dismissed.”

The superintendent said appropriate measures were taken following the incident.

“From a personnel point of view, we handled that matter,” Filippelli said.

The Carpenters say they will be sending their children outside the district for high school.

“We’ll go to Ponaganset High School or Coventry, but not Scituate,” Crystal Carpenter said.

Distressed with the school’s response and weary of further bullying, the Carpenters called Town Council President John Mahoney.

“I understand how they feel because I, too, have experienced the same with Mr. Sweet and my son,” Mahoney said.

The council president said his son, a senior at Scituate High School, has been unfairly targeted by Sweet for years. He said he has tried to approach Sweet in the past to express concerns about discipline style.

“He was very challenging, verbally with me,” Mahoney said. “He is the bully.”

The council president said the Carpenters approached him for relief, “to try to assist in whatever way I could,” Mahoney told The Valley Breeze & Observer. “I have very limited authority with the school,” he said. “But I reached out to the superintendent.”

Mahoney said Filippelli told him to “have the parents call me.”

The council president also reached out to School Committee Chair Brian LaPlante, who he says told him, “It’s out of my control, dude.”

The School Committee and administrative staff in Scituate say they are taking measures to address parent concerns regarding bullying.

In a statement sent to The Valley Breeze & Observer, LaPlante said the School Committee and the School Department have a zero tolerance policy concerning bullying at any level.

"I am very proud of our School District’s united front on this issue and our students and parents overwhelmingly agree that our schools are very safe and supportive. When Mr. Mahoney telephoned me to request that I address an alleged school-related incident reported to him, I asked him to direct the parties involved to contact the School Administrators, the professionals legally authorized to manage such issues. Although I vigilantly support anti-bullying measures as a policy maker, I could not intervene at the investigatory level concerning allegations levied about School Department employees and children. I certainly did not only tell Mr. Mahoney, as the quote attributed to me suggests, that the alleged incident was beyond my control as a School Committee member, which it certainly was under applicable law. Rather, I asked him to direct the parties involved to report the incident through the proper channels."

At an Oct. 3 School Committee meeting, Filippelli announced a collaboration with the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit to bring education about “proper online behavior” to the students.

A presentation will be scheduled for December and cover “cyber safety, cyber bullying, digital footprints, and also consequences for inappropriate behavior,” Filippelli said.

Scituate Middle School Principal Tonianne Napolitano has also introduced new suggestion boxes to the school, where students can leave comments in a locked box for Napolitano to retrieve later.

“That’s something that I used in the previous schools I’ve been in,” Napolitano said. “And it was very successful.”

The suggestion boxes are stationed outside the main office, in the cafeteria, in the 6th and 7th grade wing, and in the 8th grade wing.

Students can leave a note about anything on their mind, positive or negative, without anyone noticing.

“This is great especially for middle school kids who don’t like to report bullying for fear of retaliation,” Napolitano said.

Comments

I have been saying for years! The bullying issue needs to be addressed first and foremost with their own staff. There is something going on within the walls of that building that is setting the tone for the kids to behave this way at school. What makes more sense...that a concentration of bullies just happen to take up residency in Scituate...or is there something going on with the building that is setting the tone? When there is lack of leadership for decades, no direction, no expectations being put forward by the administration...the staff is going to push the envelope with their behavior. When other staff members see this bad behavior and no consequences being given for bad behavior..they are going to start doing the same. It's not difficult to figure out. It's just that no one wants to don their "black hat" and start doling out consequences.

I agree with "erusso92", lack of strong leadership has been an issue for both the School Superintendent/Asst Superintendent positions as well as School Committee Chair for a very long time. More than one teacher has stated directly to me, that their hands are tied to do anything. It is not just with the bullying or the lacking in supports for special needs but across the board! The attitude and arrogance from that "powers that be" with in the school system are counter productive to a safe and healthy educational experience.

I will state I am thankful for the new principals in place, because it is "new eyes & new ideas" coming out. However, if current Superintendent & Chair get to continue on the path of same ole same ole, any ground gained will quickly go by wayside!

We cleaned out some of the lack in Leadership last elections, time to finish the clean out next election!

This has got to stop. People need to treat each other with dignity and respect. Take my word for it, sometimes bullying can scar a person for life!

I grew up in Scituate and I went to Clayville Elementary and Scituate Middle/High School.I graduated from Scituate High in 2013. I will say that there is a bullying issue in the Scituate school system but it has nothing to do with individuals like Mr. Sweet. I was relentlessly bullied my entire middle school and high school career by other students. My crime against our community? Reading books, liking to sing and liking to act. Not a day went by were I wasn't called a fag or harassed for the previously mentioned things. One of the people who was always nice to me and listened to my side of things when I acted out against those who bullied me relentlessly is Mr. Sweet.
Was he tough on me at times? of course but only because I deserved it for what I had done be it hitting the kid who had just taken my book from me and hit me over the head with it five or so times on the bus and the only thing the driver saw was me punch the kid because that was just my dumb luck or because I got in a fight with a guy over how he was treating his girlfriend. Mr. Sweet made it very clear every time what I had done wrong and how I could have handled it differently. Mr. Sweet was hard on the kids who regularly showed signs of aggression and deviance , as he should have, and enforced the policies of the Scituate school system to the best of his abilities. Is bullying an issue at Scituate? Absolutely, But is it right to put the blame on a single individual like Mr. Sweet who has to deal with these situations day in and day out? Absolutely not. Focus on putting programs and policies in place to further combat bullying rather than taking it out on an individual who is just doing his job.