Last Tuesday, “Johnny,” a fourth-grader at Aquebogue Elementary School, was showing a friend the Teddy bear he’d brought to school when another student from his grade approached him.
That student, who Johnny’s family said has been harassing him for five years, began teasing Johnny, telling him his mother is ugly.
After Johnny responded by calling him a bully, the classmate wrapped both his hands around Johnny’s neck, choking him to the “near point of passing out,” according to the mother. A friend managed to separate them and reported the incident to a teacher.
That’s the story Johnny’s family told the News-Review in an interview this week, after they filed a police report and a Dignity for All Students Act report, spoke with an attorney and met with the superintendent of Riverhead schools.
The police report confirmed last week’s incident but because it involved minors, few details were available.
The bullying is a challenge Johnny — whose name has been changed to protect his privacy — and his family have has been dealing with since his first day of kindergarten.
“This kid is just a problem and it needs to be addressed,” Johnny’s mom said. “I feel bad for his family. He needs help because this is out of control. He’s roaming around the school tormenting the kids.”
In kindergarten, the same student allegedly punched Johnny on the bus. Johnny’s mom said the bus driver filed a report and the student was given a warning. During first grade, she said her son’s face was slammed into a bus window. The school principal gave the student another warning and began to take note of ongoing problems.
In second grade, she said her son was pushed to the ground during recess and repeatedly punched in the stomach by the same classmate. The following year, the classmate allegedly pushed Johnny to the ground and tripped him repeatedly during Field Day, in front of parents and other children. That same year, the mother said, the student began verbally threatening her son and his family.
Following the family’s meeting with Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez and administrators at Aquebogue, the district has begun to implement a plan to protect Johnny, his mother said. That plan includes having a staff member escort him from the bus and accompany him in the hallways throughout the day, she said.
The other student involved was suspended for two days last week but has since returned to the building, Johnny’s mom said, adding that she felt the punishment was not severe enough. She was hoping the other student could be removed from the school and placed in an alternative program for children with behavioral issues.
“It’s a bigger situation now,” she said. “There is a whole bullying aspect going on in this school and the administration is not protecting the kids.”
Ms. Henriquez said in an emailed statement that the district “strictly adheres” to the Dignity for All Students Act and continues to work proactively to train staff and educate students about embracing their differences through bullying prevention and character education programs.
“The district has zero tolerance for any bullying, harassment or other inappropriate behavior and any such actions will be met with the appropriate disciplinary measures,” she said. “As soon as the incident was brought to my attention on Feb. 7, I immediately met with the parents and began an internal investigation. However, the district is unable to comment on individual student matters, which are protected by student privacy laws.”
Dissatisfied with the end result, Johnny’s mom has also reached out to media outlets and turned to Facebook to tell her son’s story.
A post she wrote on the Aquebogue PTO Facebook page was deleted, she said. She shared the same message on her personal Facebook page. That post was shared several hundred times.
On Monday, Aquebogue PTO president Angela Ohlbaum posted in the Facebook group, saying the PTO doesn’t “condone bullying of any kind … we regretfully are removing the post to protect the children and all parties involved.”
Johnny’s mom said she emailed the Board of Education about the incident earlier this week. But the matter, which she said was mentioned briefly at a PTO meeting Monday, was not discussed at Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
Johnny’s mom said the family is considering removing him from the district, but would prefer not to.
“Every child is at risk, not just my child,” she said. “The way the school handled it on a whole bigger-picture scale, not just regarding my son, they’re not doing anything to protect those kids … It’s a mess. It’s really unfortunate.”