‘There are weapons in kindergarten’

04/29/2010 12:00 AM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO
Concerned parents say extreme instances of bullying, even involving weapons, at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside have been overlooked for years.

“My child was a quarter of an inch away from being ripped open with a knife,” said Kenneth Alfano, whose child is a special needs student in kindergarten at Phillips Avenue Elementary School.

His child had come “home with a leather jacket sliced from neck to belly,” Mr. Alfano told the Riverhead Board of Education Tuesday night. The incident happened about a month ago, apparently at a bus stop in the afternoon, he said, adding that he’d spoken to school officials about it and even called the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

“I feel I’ve gotten nothing but a lot of lip service,” he told the school board Tuesday.

Mr. Alfano was one of three people who addressed the board about bullying at Phillips Avenue.

Parent Sue Tocci said her third-grade son has been bullied since he was in kindergarten at the school and little had been done about it.

“My son begged me in tears to remove him from the school,” she said. Ms. Tocci said her son is traumatized and fears bullies will follow him home.

“As the years have gone by, the bullying, hitting and stealing has been brushed under the rug with no consequences,” Ms. Tocci said.

Her son has been hit with a belt that another student brought as a weapon, he’s been kicked in the groin, put in headlocks until he fell to the ground, and punched over the past four years, she said.

“This has gone way beyond bullying,” Mr. Alfano said. “There are weapons in that school at the kindergarten level. Something needs to be done.”

Yvette Tirado, a district bus driver, told the board that she’d reported children for bullying many times and nothing had happened. She was even accused of writing too many reports.

“Children are in fear to speak about what’s going on,” she said.

Ms. Tocci said that four years ago, she was approached by a parent outside the school who told her another woman outside the school had a gun and “was there to get my diamonds.”

She reported that to the principal’s office, and instead of calling the police, someone from the office asked her a day later to describe the woman and then said, “I thought so.”

Ms. Tocci said the situation had improved in the past month, after she met with new Phillips Avenue principal Patricia Nugent, but that her son is still traumatized.

Board members would not allow Ms. Tocci to discuss school personnel by name. Ms. Nugent replaced Thomas Payton as principal in January. He had held the post since April 2005, and was reassigned for undisclosed reasons.

“Steps have been taken that appear to be somewhat successful, but perhaps not as successful as they need to be,” school board president Angela DeVito said. She recommended that Ms. Tocci continue the dialogue she’s had with school officials so that “perhaps this instance of what appears to be extreme bullying in that school can be ended.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner,” board member Chrissy Prete said. “But I can tell you right now, this board had better make sure that bullying ends.”

tgannon@timesreview.com