Mother warns of bullying in schools

Ruth O'Hare said she realized right away what she must do as soon as she learned Pettibone School would be closing in New Milford and grades would be reconfigured in town.

She knew she had to speak out about bullying in the schools, especially what could happen when younger children are housed with older kids.

"When I heard sixth-graders would be going to Schaghticoke (Middle School)," O'Hare said recently, "I couldn't sit by and say nothing about what my daughter went through.

"I hear the parents who are concerned about their sixth-graders going to that school," she added, "and my heart goes out to them."

Pettibone is scheduled to close at the end of the next school year, and in the fall of 2015, sixth-graders, now at Sarah Noble Intermediate School, will begin attending Schaghticoke Middle School with seventh- and eighth-graders, as they did for many years before Sarah Noble opened in 2001.

O'Hare has filed two complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against the New Milford Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote on her daughter's behalf.

The daughter, who will be a senior, is not being identified by The Spectrum because she is a minor.

The complaints claim severe bullying and physical assaults suffered by O'Hare's daughter, first at Schaghticoke Middle School and then at New Milford High School, were ignored by school administration.

These led to severe mental health issues for the student, the complaint states.

O'Hare said her daughter was bullied by students her age, which makes her worry what could happen with younger students in that school.

A series of hearings about the complaints are ongoing at the CHRO offices in Hartford. A formal CHRO hearing is scheduled for July 2015.

School officials had denied the allegations when the complaints were filed in May 2012 with the state agency.

Paddyfote said she could not talk about details in a student's situation because of federal law. Also, pending litigation makes extensive comment impossible, she said.

"I have no comment beyond saying that the administration believes there is absolutely no basis for the family's claims," Paddyfote said.

O'Hare's daughter had been expelled from Schaghticoke Middle School as an eighth-grader in 2010 for Facebook postings after what O'Hare alleges were severe bullying and physical assaults by students there.

The Facebook postings by the girl and a male student included a threat against a school administrator and the building.

O'Hare said her daughter acted out of frustration and despair after repeated complaints that she had been a target of student harassment were allegedly ignored by school authorities.

In November 2011, O'Hare removed her daughter from New Milford High School after an alleged attack in the cafeteria. The bullying had followed the student into high school, according to the complaints.

"We brought it to the attention of New Milford High School staff, the assistant superintendent and the superintendent, but nothing was done," O'Hare said. "She was neglected by the school staff and then the administration in central office."

Her daughter was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to documentation provided by O'Hare from Dr. John G. Gelinas, with the Family Study Center in Danbury.

The daughter now attends an out-of-district high school at the town's expense. The school administration agreed to the placement in February 2012, based on the doctor's report.

The school board voted June 18 to close Pettibone, citing declining enrollment. During hearings, many parents spoke of their concerns about moving sixth-graders to Schaghticoke.

Board members Angie Chastain and David Littlefield said they did not foresee it as a problem.; 860-355-7322