A police investigation that began nearly a month ago has concluded with misdemeanor charges of harassment and terroristic threats being filed in Northampton County Juvenile Court against two 10-year-old boys who allegedly bullied other children, Hellertown Police announced Tuesday.
Police issued a news release in which they seemed to indicate that the cases are related to recent reports of bullying at Saucon Valley Middle School, including one in which parent and borough resident Dave Clarke said his daughter was the victim of a 10-year-old bully.
“After officers interviewed several juveniles and parents, it was concluded that two 10-year-old males had separately made threats to ‘shoot’ two different juvenile victims,” police said in the news release. “The juvenile actors had also bullied several other juveniles as well at Saucon Valley Middle School, on the bus and in Hellertown.”
Clarke told the Saucon Valley School Board as well as district administrators on Oct. 21 that his daughter was being bullied on the bus on her way to school, and he spoke of an incident in which a boy allegedly threatened to shoot another child “in the head.”
The boy who allegedly bullied his daughter was ultimately put on a different school bus, however Clarke said he withdrew her from the district, enrolled her in a local parochial school and obtained counseling for her after none was offered by school district officials.
On Tuesday, he praised Hellertown Police for what he called a thorough and professional investigation into the bullying he says has affected his daughter and other students, not only emotionally, but also in terms of their educations.
“I’m glad that they got involved,” he said of the police. “They’ve done exactly what they said they were going to do and I thank the police department for doing that, however this should have been handled by the school district before it ever got to this point.”
Clarke and another parent who also recently withdrew her child from Saucon Valley over bullying concerns–MaryAnn Wisser–have created a Facebook group called The Saucon Valley Community Against Bullying as part of an effort to draw attention to a problem they say is chronic and has been inadequately handled by school staff and administrators.
Many comments shared in that group and on the Saucon Source Facebook page by current and former students as well as parents of former or current pupils have appeared to support claims that the response by school officials to bullying concerns and complaints has been lackluster, at least in some cases.
As of Tuesday, the anti-bullying Facebook group had 175 members, however so far participation in it by parents and alumni hasn’t translated into increased attendance at school board meetings, which is where any decisions about updating or revising the district’s anti-bullying policy would have to be made.
At the board’s Nov. 12 meeting (click here to watch the entire meeting on YouTube), Clarke again spoke about his family’s experience and asked whether the district would work to change its policies and procedures to help prevent future bullying of students.
Since his question was asked during the Citizen’s Inquiries and Comments portion of the meeting, it did not receive a direct reply.
“It’s not a question-and-answer,” board solicitor Mark Fitzgerald told him.
Clarke said previously that when he requested the opportunity to address the topic of bullying as a pre-scheduled presenter at the Nov. 12 board meeting–which would have allowed for that dialogue–the opportunity to do so was denied him.
He also criticized the length of time he said an investigation into a bullying complaint can take–up to 15 days, per district policy–and told the board “that needs to change.”
“If you want to stop bullying in the district, you need to start with yourselves,” he said.
Saucon Valley Superintendent Dr. Craig Butler responded indirectly to Clarke and another resident–Bernadette Novak–who told the board both her daughter and granddaughter were bullied in Saucon Valley schools.
In his remarks, Butler said that not only as an administrator, but also as a father and grandfather, he feels compelled to do everything in his power to prevent bullying.
“When I think about the students walking the halls at Saucon Valley, I think about my own grandchildren,” he said.
“Obviously I’m not sure there is a school in the nation that is immune from this type of behavior,” he continued, before adding that “complacency is not the name of the game…and we will not become complacent. … We will do everything we can to make Saucon Valley the very best school district possible.”
Some of the information contained in the police news release seems to contradict that assertion, however, since it implies district staff knew of the alleged threats before police did, and failed to relay information to authorities until after an investigation was already under way.
“Saucon Valley Middle School was aware and investigated the incidents…and provided information upon request on their closed cases involving the (two 10-year-olds),” police said.
Clarke, too, previously said he felt the district only reported an incident in which he said “a boy threatened someone’s life; threatened to shoot them in the head” to police because he told officials he was contacting local media and civil rights organizations about it.
Clarke said he reported that incident–which did not involve his daughter–to the NAACP because of the alleged use of a racial epithet by one of the boys involved in it. He said that as a recent transplant to the Hellertown area, he was unaware at the time of a separate case involving racially-motivated bullying that put the Saucon Valley School District in an unwelcome national media spotlight several years ago.
The father of the former Saucon Valley High School student who was a target in that now-infamous incident also addressed the school board at last Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m here tonight because of the concerns of what I see in the media,” said Lower Saucon Township resident Kerry MacLean, whose family ultimately brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district; a lawsuit that was settled out of court two years ago.
One of the settlement terms was that the district’s anti-bullying program be continued.
In their suit, the MacLeans alleged that their two sons were subjected to a pattern of racially-motivated bullying which included verbal abuse and threats of physical violence against them, and that they were denied equal protection under the Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They also alleged that the school district failed to adequately address the incidents, thus violating their sons’ constitutional rights.
And on Nov. 12, Kerry MacLean reminded school board members and administrators about what he and his family went through.
“Don’t forget,” he said. “I just want to encourage you to not get complacent. Keep your feet on the gas.”
In an effort to help hold school officials accountable, Clarke said Tuesday he has also been in contact with the Anti-Defamation League, which has an in-school program to help combat bullying he hopes Saucon Valley will consider utilizing in the future.
The next Saucon Valley School Board meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. in the high school Audion room. Meetings–which are generally held the second and fourth Tuesday of the month–are open to the public, and are also livestreamed on YouTube. A link to watch the meetings live is available on the school board agendas page of the district website.
Note: An earlier published version of this story incorrectly listed the date of the next school board meeting. We apologize for any confusion the error may have caused.