June 13, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer
In the last two years, Melanie Mantilla says, bullies at Hartford's Kennelly School have choked her son with a slinky, slammed a bathroom stall door on his head and thrown a rock at his head, cutting him.
Mantilla, whose son is in fourth grade, and other parents say they've had enough.
About 20 Kennelly parents plan to give the school board a list of demands that includes an end to what they said is pervasive violence.
At a press conference outside the school's playground Tuesday, parents said Kennelly needs a comprehensive plan to curb bullying, needs more educators certified in dealing with special needs students and more social workers, psychiatrists and security guards.
The group offered anecdotal evidence of problems but had no figures on violent incidents or staffing levels to support their contentions.
Milly Arciniegas, the school's PTO president and the organizer of the parents' group, said the problems aren't limited to Kennelly.
"If we make it look like a one-school issue, then what the district does is they try to put tape on just that school," she said. "... They have to put an end to it in all schools."
Arciniegas, who has been president of the Kennelly PTO for five years, said the solution has to start at the district level. "The teachers are doing everything that they can."
Terry D'Italia, the school district's spokesman, said the district take the concerns "very seriously."
"Safety is a basic need and the district's top priority," D'Italia said. "It's very difficult for any learning to take place if there isn't a safe and orderly environment in our schools."
The group said some parents will not return their children to the school in the fall unless problems are corrected.
D'Italia said those issues will be resolved by then, if not sooner.
"Hopefully we will get these problems behind us before the school year ends or certainly before the new school year begins," he said.
"The district is working with school leadership to address the concerns of parents and to get these issues resolved."
Mantilla's younger son entered first grade this year reading below the kindergarten level. She was told that, despite being diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder by a pediatrician, "he's not severe enough" to get special attention at school, she said.
Mantilla, who once worked for the board of education, cut off a job search last June to dedicate more time to her children.
A whole team of social workers, not just one, is needed to deal with the "war climate" in the schools, Arciniegas said. The group of parents, who know each other from the community, plan to expand their efforts to other schools, she said.
Arciniegas says that she routinely brings up issues for the board of education to deal with and is constantly disappointed. "It's like they're robots," she said
Pointing to a group of students on the school's playground Arciniegas said "this is what it should be about."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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