Five parents spoke out about violent bullying at James Blair Middle School at the Williamsburg-James City County School Board's work session Tuesday night.
Nick Louridas, a father of two students at the school, said while his kids were excited at first to attend James Blair, they have come to dread school because they don’t feel safe in the hallways, bathroom or while waiting for their bus home from school.
Louridas said his children have witnessed daily behavior ranging from disrespectful behavior toward teachers and inappropriate language to harassment and vandalism by other students.
“At what point are steps taken to address the problem for more than just a day or two to make it a safer environment and a better learning environment for the students and teachers,” Louridas said. “This needs to be fixed quickly. “
Students have not been disciplined for misbehavior, Louridas claimed. The most dramatic example Louridas shared was a student who was put head first in a trash can by another student while they were waiting for the bus. The student who did the bullying was allowed to go home on the school bus after the assault, he said.
“This occurred in the school at the end of the day with cameras,” Louridas said. “This is assault. What message are you sending to these children? How would you feel if that was done to you? How are you making them feel safe and showing that this will not be tolerated?”
The mother and father of the student who had been thrown into the trash can, Kelley and Jeff Crisci, also spoke at the work session that night.
Kelley Crisci said she had been informed something had happened to her child when another mother texted her asking if he was OK.
“I don’t need to rehash what has unfolded the past month there at James Blair, but it has been a nightmare, to say the least,” Crisci said. “My concern is that this nightmare will only get worse until these serious issues are addressed.”
Both parents said they had not had this issue at their older children’s schools elsewhere in W-JCC.
Friday, before the alleged trashcan incident, the mother said she had emailed the James Blair principal Ty Harris, assistant principal Astrid Howell and superintendent Olwen Herron about her concerns about safety at the school.
“(The) principal responded ‘I understand your concerns and we are putting in specific measures in place that should yield immediate improvements,’” the mother said. “The next day (my child) was put in a trashcan.”
Shannon Hassan, mother of another student at James Blair, also spoke about the student who was thrown into the trash can. She said her seventh grader was shocked the student who did that was allowed to go home on the bus.
Omar Hasham was the final parent to speak out. He said his son has told him students are not disciplined and simply go on to brag about getting into fights.
Herron said she had only just been made aware of events at James Blair over the last few days.
“I’m very concerned about the allegations by parents,” Herron said. “We do have a plan in place and Dr. (Catherine) Worley, our assistant superintendent for secondary school, is working with the school and there is a plan in place to create high expectations for students.”
While the school would not disclose punishments, Harris said students who break the rules face disciplinary actions. Herron said the principal and vice principal visited every classroom on Tuesday to talk about their expectations for students.
“In addition to talking to every single kid, our teachers have been instructed to be more visible during the day,” Harris said. “We have changed some things around such as class changes and things like that, cut down on any opportunities for things to happen, that’s the biggest thing.”
Herron also said she appreciated the parents speaking up at the school board’s work session, and would continue to act on their concerns.
“There is nothing more important to me than the safety of students and creating an environment for learning,” Herron said emphatically.
During board member’s comments, James Beers said he was disturbed by the comments made by parents.
“I am also incredibly distressed by the comments we received tonight,” said Julie Hummel, Williamsburg.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.