Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School board says bullying increase may be linked to loss of police officer

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
November 27, 2007

VERNON - Some parents say they are seeing an alarming increase in bullying at Vernon Center Middle School of late, and school officials believe it might be a direct result of losing the school resource officer to budget cuts last year.

Rod Fuller, Kempo master and owner of Hidden Dragon Karate, told the Board of Education on Monday he has heard increasing reports of bullying from his students who attend Vernon Center Middle School.

Fuller, who teaches martial arts at his dojo on Talcottville Road and gives lessons for the Parks and Recreation Department, said he took an informal poll recently of students ages 12 to 14. Fuller said 9 out of 16 revealed they had experienced some form of daily verbal or physical abuse at the hands of other students.

This is not about students brushing by others in the hallways, Fuller said. He attended Monday's meeting with a group of parents. He said it's about physical abuse and fights in the bathrooms and on the buses.

"It's affecting these kids so bad that most of them don't want to go to school," he told board members. "I want to ask the board to look into this and do something."

School Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz told Fuller that while bullying does not occur daily, it does happen often enough to cause concern, and that the middle school administration handles problems immediately as it learns of it.

"It's dealt with," Paskiewicz said. "We've had kids suspended and kids in counseling, but at some point someone has to hear about it - the staff is good at picking things up, but ultimately they have to be told this is happening."

Students are warned to inform teachers discreetly, however, so as not to ramp up the cycle of abuse they are already experiencing.

Fuller said he has advised his students to also document cases.

"Unfortunately we lost the VCMS resource officer last year because of the budget," said Board Chairwoman Cathy Rebai, who believes the rise could be a direct result.

Police officers were first stationed at both the high school and middle school in 1994. Officer Eric Pagel remains at Rockville High, but budget cuts in 2006 forced former Police Chief Rudolf Rossmy to pull the full-time officer from the middle school.

Officer Tim Murphy still pops in at the middle school from time to time to maintain contact with students, but his main duty now is patrolling Vernon streets.

"There are a lot of parents who think there's been a big change" in student discipline since Murphy was reassigned, Fuller said.

Police Chief James Kenny "has told me there is a marked difference when there's an officer in the building," Paskiewicz agreed.

When it comes time to set the budget, "parents should be telling the council that an officer needs to be put back in" at the middle school, Rebai stated.

In other business Monday, the school board unanimously approved in concept the system-wide improvement and instructional plan, which includes changes to curriculum and textbooks.

The changes are necessary to meet goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind laws.

Vernon was the only school system in the state this year to do well enough to be removed from a list of school systems in need of improvement. However, the benchmark goals will now increase and there are still areas for improvement, Assistant Superintendent Deborah Murasso said.

Math, where targets were not met by student subgroups at both Maple Street and the middle school, is such an area.

Chris Ozmun, math program coordinator, said a new curriculum is being devised to address problem areas. Once completed, new textbooks for all elementary grades will be ordered to replace the 2001 copies now in use, Ozmun said.

Now there is no consistency between the elementary schools in teaching math, Ozmun told board members.

"The current books are not adequate for meeting the state's benchmarks, and teachers are working hard to supplement with their own materials," Ozmun said. As a result, the work and results vary from school to school, and even class to class.

Some board members first balked when they learned of the $80,000 price tag - the heftiest textbook request made Monday - to replace the 6-year-old books.

But in the 10-year plan language arts is also due for a large scale overhaul in the next year or two, and the board can't afford to pay for both in the same budget year, Murasso cautioned.

New math textbooks for the elementary schools are needed to keep everyone working on the same state mandated goals, said Ozmun, adding it's "that lack of foundation across the board" which is proving to be the problem.

The board unanimously approved the 2008-09 budget request for textbooks, totaling $167,590.

Besides elementary math, new books include high school video production at $1,771; grade six literature and high school advance placement literature at $25,500; various high school math disciplines at $14,200, and high school chemistry and advanced placement physics at $8,775; civics for all high school levels at $18,000; middle school French and high school Spanish at $16,331; and woodworking and engineering texts for vocational education at $3,013.

©Journal Inquirer 2007