Branford High School

Editors Note: The following article involves minors in the Branford school system. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, names are being left out. Additionally, as investigations are ongoing and due to laws governing information regarding minors, school representatives cannot comment regarding the actions or statements by parents that are being presented here, and because minors are involved, there is more limited access to source documentation.

On Wednesday evening, parents of students at Walsh Intermediate School attended the Board of Education meeting, with some delivering emotional testimony detailing what they considered to be a pattern of bullying at the school.

The main issues, according to parents, deal, not only with the actual events in question, but the manner in which the school district has handled the matters, with a focus on Walsh principal Robin Goeler and Branford school superintendent Hamlet Hernandez.

The incidents relayed at the meeting were disturbing, as accounts of physical violence and alleged racial attacks, all stemming from one student, were relayed.

Prior to the parents speaking at the meeting, some details of the incidents came to light via social media, and later, as part of a discussion on a radio talk show hosted by Vinnie Penn. Penn is also a Branford resident, with student in the school system.

The incident in question that began the public discussion involved “Student 1” grabbing a fellow student around the back of the neck and making verbal threats. Parents Nicholle McKiernan and Tara Moriarty spoke of incidents where this behavior was repeated, and included verbal threats. According to parents, “student 1” often gave physical gestures to others invoking violence and death.

A key aspect of the discussion on the Vinnie Penn show was that “student 1” was part of a program referred to as “Open Choice,” a program where out of town children could be bussed into Branford and other suburban towns. “Student 1” is from New Haven.

Another incident spoken of at the meeting by a separate parent involved (student 1) and others physically assaulting a student in the locker room area while repeatedly making racial slurs. The incident has been reported to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the details of the incident and aftermath are included.

The result of the incident, which allegedly took place at Walsh in January, was “student 1” given a suspension, according to the letter.

According to the letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice:

“On Friday, January 22, my son crawled to me on his hands and knees to the dismissal area where myself and another parent were waiting for our children. My son was crying and was beaten. He needed our help to stand. I helped my son to the nurse’s office, and it was obvious he was injured.

“(Student 2) relayed to me what had happened: During dismissal his friend had gone to his locker with him because (student 2) had been afraid of being beaten up. There were no teachers or administrators in the locker are. He said he was attacked by 20 kids! (Student 2) said when he closed his locker the kids yelled “Kill the Jew! Jews don’t deserve anything nice! Give us all your money!” (Student 2) said the kids pushed him into the locker, they pushed him to the ground; they kicked him in his stomach, ribs and legs.... they smashed his head into the lockers! (Student 2) had said a couple of kids (bystanders) had tried to help him while he was still inside, but the kids attacked me again! He said he was too hurt to stand and had to crawl to me.”

What happened next was something that, in many ways, has become a familiar theme: parents taking issue with the process by which they are communicated with and issues and incidents are investigated.

According to the victim’s mother, the school principal, Robin Goeler, came to the nurse’s office to hear what took place. After to child detailed what took place and who did it, Goeler responded “Well, that’s only one side, so we’ll have to investigate it.”

The boy’s parents met with school officials (the boys father is a police officer). According to the mother’s report, they were told multiple times there was video of the incident (the locker room area is public at Walsh, and has video cameras) and were told they could view it, but it has yet to be produced and made available.

The reports also state’s that two of the students have since apologized for their involvement, including in one face-to-face meeting between one of the perpetrators and the victim, facilitated by school official. Another wrote a 2 page apology letter. (Student 1) has never apologized.

The parents were told that the incident was a “verified bullying incident,” they objected, claiming it was a hate crime. On February 1, the mother states, “principal Goeler informed me he was having a meeting with (student 1’s) parents, and he does not feel (student 1) will be returning to school.

Later, she would find out that two students received in-school suspension, and that (student 1) received a suspension. The parent believed the suspension was 3 weeks, in actuality the maximum suspension that could be given, according to officials, is 10 days.

In her report, the victim’s mother states this:

Although my ex-husband and I were told this was a “verified bullying incident” I am very concerned that the school has not responded to our requests and has withheld evidence. The school has reneged on their plan that (student 1) would not be returning to school. He has. There is no safety plan put in place for our son. I do not feel our son is safe. My son does not feel safe.”

The school and school officials have declined to comment on the matters, citing FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws.

One of the witnesses to the incident was a young female student who, last November, was slapped across the face by (Student 1) in a hallway. According to a witnesses, when it occurred, others ran over to the area having actually heard it from a different locker bay.

Parents who spoke at Wednesdays meeting were aware of multiple incidents involving (Student 1) but were not aware he had been suspended.

According to parents, the issues with (student 1) have continued even after an adult aid was assigned to be with (student 1). Parents state that (student 1) has been without an aid at various times in the school day, and has continued, even with an aid present, to make verbal threats at other students.

The most recent incident, which took place in an art class 2 weeks ago and prompted the parents speaking at the BOE meeting, took place in an art class, where parents state their children “physically attacks and verbally threatened.”

But McKiernan, who also served as the president of the Walsh PTA until she resigned last week, stated she was not notified about the incident. In fact, she did not know it took place until another parent contacted her that evening, as their own child was distressed over what took place. Since then numerous emails have been exchanged, with no specific safety plan presented by officials.

After the incident, principal Goeler took both student into a mediation session, and felt that solved the matter, according to McKiernan.

“Based on the facts that became aware to me, I learned that this child was a frequent offender who slapped a girl in the face, beat up two other children, grabbed my son and a friend by the neck, and made several threats to our children and others,” she states. “Shocked, disappointed and in fear, I requested numerous times a safety plan from the school. The response was the same, “the school has a plan in place to keep the students safe and is supported by the administration.” I ask you, how is that specific and what does that mean in reference to keeping my child and the school safe?”

Emails sent between parents and school officials support the claims, with many responses to questions being generic, “we take child safety seriously” responses. A common theme is the amount of time, often days, that pass before a parent is responded to by email. In the case of McKeirnan, she was never notified by the school that the incident ever took place.

No parent called for the student to be expelled, but rather a safety plan that would ensure that (student 1) was not in class with their child and that an aid was with him at all times. But since parents have requested this, and been assured there was a safety plan in place, students have reported on multiple occasions that (student 1) was without an adult aid.

For McKiernan, the issues remain that there is no documented safety plan and the BOE policy on bullying is not being implemented.

I have spoken with an attorney, the police, other parents, students, teachers, the state of CT bullying director, and members of our community,” she writes. “The fear and uneasy feeling with the administrations lack of transparency regarding these matters is real. The general consensus is ‘how is this child still in our school and what is the Branford school policy on the matters at hand?”

The law does limit what officials can say. Hernandez reiterated that "the district continues to take the safety of every student seriously, but by law we cannot discuss any incident or its context publicly."

(40) comments

Anonymous

Students have too much free time. At one time students had 3 minutes to get to a class and had to be in a classroom or study hall other than those 3 minutes. There was no time for bullying.

Anonymous

I had a neighbor kid who was a bully to my daughter, and one day I saw him hit her with a rock. I caught him and beat the cr^p out of him, and told him if he ever hit my daughter again, or he told his father that I hit him, I would beat the cr^p out of his father. He never bothered her again.

Curiouser49

That's how it used to be done and it worked!

gobballfan

The BOE, Superintendent, and Principals in Branford are so full of themselves it's disgusting. They think they know everything and nothing any parent says really matters. They will just nod their head and yes you to death. It's easier to get an audience with the pope than it is to get Hamlet to return a phone call. I know that first hand. The communications between the schools and the public/parents would make you think we lived in 1916, not 2016. They try to keep things from getting out and this is what happens. They have a "restorative communication" with the kids involved and expect it to be over. Just call the kids parents immediately and handle it. Hear say and getting things second hand from the kids only escalates already sensitive situations. A parent shouldn't be the one calling the police. The principal should be. It is their job to protect the safety of all kids, and not be afraid to upset one kid. Project Choice or race should not even be a factor in the way WIS handled this. Kudos to the parents for calling out the administrators. I'm sure it wasn't the victims CHOICE to be bullied or physically attacked. The BOE and Hamlet and principals bend over backwards to pat themselves on the back for the great arts and music programs in town that they really have nothing to do with. Now let's see them actually have to address an issue they get paid the big bucks for. Hopefully they weren't just waiting for the school year to end and all would be forgotten.

Anonymous

You are witness to the inevitable negatives of Social Engineering. I'm guessing the issue maybe with a minority as if it was a White child the Boards reaction would be much different. Your Solution is as follows. Give your son a phone, have him dial 911 every time student 1 comes near him. The more press time you receive the faster a solution will be implemented.

Anonymous

Wow.....,I sense a lot of racial bigotry from these comments. I find it offensive. If you don't have anything nice to say.......keep it to yourself.

mightymouse

The racial bigotry is by blacks against whites and Muslims against Jews.

Anonymous

Reading this article, I had PTSD. I am a product of the New Haven School system from the late 60's. Everything in this article is what I went through in the New Haven Schools. I went to school, every day, with knots in my stomach, worrying if I would get beat up, as many of the students did. We were sent home many days due to racial riots. The administration was no help. As a result, I didn't get my college degree until my 40's, because I just had to get out of school as a survivor.

I moved to Branford, to give my children a better schooling experience, but it seems, the same types of things are happening, due to New Haven students trickling into the school system.

I am so sad to see that this is still happening 40 some odd years after I had to experience this.

These children are in school to get an education, not to worry about their backs.

Shame on Branford for allowing this to happen.

mightymouse

It isn't Branford's fault that students are being bused from New Haven to Branford. It's the fault of the voters who voted in people who created the busing program.

Anonymous

To Anonymous 8:52 and 10:05. Your comments are disgusting. You should be ashamed. To bring back segregation and bring Obama into this is just outrageous. It's 2016. I bet you were a bully too.

Anonymous

I sense a lot of hatred.

Anonymous

The problem is too many of these clowns who call themselves educators are too preoccupied with their next evaluation to give a da*n about our kids. Test scores mean more than whether a child feels safe in an environment where they are suppose to focus on learning. Solves these problems and you will fix the schools.

Anonymous

Open Choice, should be viewed as a privilege, not a right. As soon as this kid stepped out a line he should have been sent back to New Haven. There should be academic standards to bet met as well as zero discipline issues. To the Branford BOE and Walsh Administration, this had better be the end of this before my children enter what can only be described now as a hell hole. If my child is physically assaulted, bullied, or even looked at the wrong way by any kid bused in from another town, I am holding you personally responsible. Whats next, Open Choice from terrorist madras ? This kid should be immediately removed from Branford School Systems for good, now.

Anonymous

"the state of CT bullying director"

What????

Anonymous

One wonders whether some of these administrators have any sense at all!

If one child physically assaults another child, you do NOT bring the two children together in a room and have them "talk things through" and then congratulate yourself afterward for having "solved the problem."

If the incident is on videotape, then you don't need to "wait to hear the other side of the story." Just watch the film! as if the instigator is going to be truthful in the first place!

Anonymous

To: Anonymous who posted at 12:16 pm on Fri, May 20, 2016.

While you write, "This kid should be immediately removed from Branford School systems for good" it seems to me that it would be much better for the child's welfare to be removed from a "family" environment that tolerates (if not tacitly supports) such behavior from their child. Had I ever learned that one of my children behaved that way (none ever did), they wouldn't be hearing from the school administrators, they'd be hearing it (and feeling it) from both parents.

A child like that is seriously troubled and needs help. If his "family" situation makes it worse for him, then maybe that is the true root cause that needs examination. I don't care how "oppressed" you are, you still don't physically assault people!

Anonymous

It appears that several comments have been removed from this thread as several remaining comments no longer make any sense. If editing is to be done, it should be done across the board. It is hard not to agree with 12:16 who states Open Choice should be considered a privilege and privileges can be taken away and in this case,obviously, should. It is also hard not to agree with 1:09 that the family situation should be looked into. But, the first step is get this kid out of our school system.

Anonymous

As a parent of a child in the school I would much rather be informed of such incidents when they occur - there is very little information shared. I would like to talk with my child about what has happened and not find out about an incident that took place in January in late May and not even from the school. BPS poor communication with parents.

gobballfan

We used to get 15 notices about a peanut allergy or 1 kid with head lice. We get a call on our house and cell phones and email when there is a snow closing or delay. Now, in a much scarier time for kids, parents have been left in the dark about serious situations involving the safety of all kids. They know how to get a hold of each and every parent, they just chose not to. Let parents know what is going on so they can talk to their kids and maybe even get more info the school admins may want. But the brilliant Branford educators have proven once again that the cover up is often worse than the crime.

Anonymous

I'm trying to figure out why there's a picture of Branford High School when this happened at Walsh.

Anonymous

While my two children received a good education k-12 in Branford. my wife and I had attended a PTA meeting early in the process. Association was a poor choice of words, as it was a canned presentation which could be condensed to "Hi, this is what we do, no time for your comments, goodbye." There was never an opportunity to participate, and all parent-teacher one-on-one meetings were met with passive agreement and no action. Parents have very little input. Bullying was present, but it was mental, not physical. Had it been physical, I would have been in the parents face big time!

Anonymous

some people just don't like other people...it's hard for the libs to understand that fact. I hope I didn't offend anyone with that statement.

Anonymous

Ok so this is very disappointing to say the vary least. Many of us parents who grew up in nearby shore line suburbs of New Haven have chosen Branford as the place to raise or children for one prominent reason.... The "good school system" ! As my children progress through the school system I grow less impressed.
Bad enough or kids are sent home nightly with a mountain of homework with out being taught the nessesary skills to successfully complete it. Forcing parents to become the teachers .
But to have our student fearing for their emotonial and physical well being on a day to day basis is unexceptable !Mr Gorler should be as concerned with providing a safe and productive environment for education ,as he seems to with policing where parents who have lost confident in the Bus system choose to drop there student off for school in the morning . Here in Branford be have many great kids and families of all types representing a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds . And while "open choice " provides student access to a better education and that is great ! It should be reserved for student that want to pull them selves up , ones that want to pull our schools down should be sent back. Enough with all the PC nonsense ! But In we are waisting our tax dollars on some one to supervise this student , and not vary well at that ! Totally unexceptable !! It is time for the BOE to remember it is us , the tax paying residents of Branford that pay there inflated salaries . Out here in the real world where most of live , if you can not preform your job you no longer have that job. Perhaps the BOE should think on that for a moment .Because the fact is if they are not willing to perform the job we the tax paying residents of Branford are paying them to do ....... They are 100% replaceable !

Anonymous

Wow.....,I sense a lot of racial bigotry from these comments. I find it offensive. If you don't have anything nice to say.......keep it to yourself.

..................classic case of not my child. race isn't that point at all. I guess you would be calm wouldn't you

Sailsalot

School administrators are notorious cowards when they deal with racial issues created by minority students. There is nothing nice to say about cowards. The racial bigotry seems to be coming from student #1. Perhaps this student would feel more at home in New Haven. To anonymous 1:54: Have the courage to use your name or go .... yourself.

Anonymous

While I certainly understand that people want to be informed, surely you know that federal privacy laws prohibit that from always being possible. Screaming at a public meeting demanding that a student be expelled tends to paint people as uninformed. I wonder, since attorneys and police are involved, why the student in question hasn't been arrested for the "crimes" that they have allegedly committed? I hear there is a lot more to this story than what is being ranted about with an underlying, one-sided agenda. Careful, folks!

Anonymous

Anon 9:46.....you do realize the BOE members are not paid, right? They are just people in the"real world" who volunteer their time.

gobballfan

Anon 4:19...the problem here is that parents of the affected on both sides are not being notified. The principal is trying to get the kids to talk it out. And parents of all students deserve to be notified of threats being made. parents need to be able to discuss these things with kids. Because God knows the admins are doing their best to keep this stuff under wraps. We live in an age of unlimited communication avenues and the Branford school system continues to live in the dark ages. Everyone understands privacy issues , and specific names can't be used. But they should at least acknowledge the problems at let people know what is being done. Because obviously the "keep it quiet " plan didn't work.

Anonymous

Well, with the mother of the "beaten" child on the 6PM news, it seems to "privacy" is out the window, does it not?

Anonymous

9:51 am Sunday
Perhaps the mother of the "beaten" child, as you but it, feels it's time to bring this into the open. Brings to mind the phrase "the squeaky wheel"

Anonymous

Student 1's actions were indefensible and unacceptable. However, I suspect that there was something to set it off. Did this mother mention her child perhaps taunting or ridiculing this kid for being bused in? Just asking.

mightymouse

One thing I've learned from being bullied growing up is nothing is needed to set off a bully. There is only one condition for bullying and that is that the bully believes he is stronger than his victim and that he can get away with it. The day I became stronger the bullying stopped.

Anonymous

This is not the first time there has been an issue with a child being bussed in from New Haven. There was a similar incident 6 years ago and the administration handled it the same way. The incompetence is incredible.

Anonymous

9:51 to 10:40 I have no issue at all with this mother taking this to the news channels and being very vocal about it. My point was simply privacy has been set aside to address a far more important issue. Actually, I think the video, if it exists, should be shown on TV. The young thug has no right to privacy - and in my mind - no right to attend Branford schools. If all is as reported this kid should be in "reform" school. He, obviously, is not benefitting from this Open Choice program.

AGL

Flash back in time: June 1976, BIS now known as WIS, locker area, the time someone finally stood up to a bussed in bully from New Haven. Use your imagination - he lost. Plenty of witnesses and the problem solved. I will never forget this incident. This kid had been bulling everyone the entire school year, teachers and administrators refused to discipline the poor little black kid from New Haven. Well you may have guessed it what happened next. I get sent to the office and threatened with suspension, not him. I said that if I get punishment then both of us do it is only fair. I was only sticking up for myself. This fell on deaf ears until I started creating a scene, then they finally told me to calm down and all was ok and no punishment for me or the other kid. Some years later they name the school after the administrator. Welcome to the wonderful Branford school system.

Anonymous

Student "1" needs to be kicked out of the Branford School System ASAP for the safety of our children. I grew up in New Haven in the 70"s and 80"s and not only witnessed but was involved in many altercations with punks/cowards like he and the other students involved. I moved out of New Haven for that reason, now I am paying higher taxes to have my child witness the things I moved out of New Haven to shelter them from. If he is allowed to stay in the school, he will only become more emboldened and continue his reign of terror.

Anonymous

In my school times if there was a bully, the 'good guys' took'em the the proverbial woodshed and beat the s**t out of him! And BINGO!!! It always WORKED! And BTW... we have the 'inner city' values on display and everybody is scared s*itless of calling a spade a spade! Sorry but importing little scumbags and paying for their education from OUR tax dollars is not the way to go!

Anonymous

Does anyone else find it particularly hilarious that the B7 posts and Editorial on how wonderful and open this site is and is also the only place in the entire world that is so perfect it cane define what the truth is and the closes the comments on that editorial. You really can't make this stuff up. It's almost as if Steve is channeling Trump, LOL.

Anonymous

Anonymous 1:16.. Your thoughts are incoherent at best. Truth... censorship and Trump all in the same thought! And let's not forget the. ..LOL. that makes it all better!

Anonymous

Doesn't anyone realize that this child (#1) could be a victim himself? Who knows for how long he was victimized. In no way am I advocating his actions to the Child victim (#2). The Administrators of this school should be held accountable. Obviously they did not do enough. My daughter while in Middle school was victimized by bullies. I never knew! This school never contacted me nor did any of the Teachers. I was horrified by this news. My daughter finally confided to me years later. She said the school did nothing but talk to the kids and administrators thought this was helpful. However, the same kids would be at it again. She was afraid that retaliation would happen if she told me about it at the time. So she chose to keep quiet. This was Titusville Intermediate School. Never liked the Principle of that school. Liberal Liar, he is.

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