Last Thursday a student at Trinity Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY was brutally assaulted by another student on the school playground during recess. Covered in blood, the boy was taken by his mother to Lawrence Hospital in
YonkersBronxville, NY where he was treated for six hours before being released with a broken blood vessel in his nose and two permanent teeth knocked loose. The family says the boy may require ENT surgery, plastic surgery and dental work.
The assailant, another 4th grader, was later arrested and referred to New Rochelle Family Court. His name was withheld due to his age.
Brandonn Baez, 10, a fourth grader at Trinity says that for the past three months two boys in his classroom teased him, called him names, shoved and hit him and stole his belongings. Unable to deal with the constant bullying on his own, he told his mother and grandmother who met with school officials to make them aware of the situation. As recently as last Wednesday, the day before the incident, the two women met with Trinity Principal Rolando Briceño, an account confirmed by Mr. Briceño.
The victim’s grandmother is Maria Baez, a former member of the New York City Council from the 14th District of The Bronx where she represented Fordham, Kingsbridge, Morris Heights, and the West Bronx. She served on the New York City Council for 8 years, from January 2002 to December 2009. She had previously worked as chief of staff for Assemblyman Jose Rivera and it the first Hispanic woman appointed to head the Bronx Board of Elections. She has since relocated to New Rochelle.
The entire experience has been traumatic for the family.
On Thursday, the victim’s mother, Carmen Baez, received a telephone call around lunchtime telling her there had been an “accident” and she needed to come to the school right away. She found her son, in the nurse’s office, bleeding from the nose, his shirt covered in blood.
“When I saw him I was hurt”, said Carmen Baez, “He was upset. There was blood all over his clothes.”
She said she had just been at the school the day before and met with Briceño about her concerns that her son was bring threatened. She no longer feels the school is safe for her son and, at this time, does not plan on him returning the school in September for fifth grade.
“This is a place where he should be safe,” Baez said. “Now he is home. He has not been back to school. He is afraid.”
Maria Baez she does not feel welcome in the school.
“We didn’t do anything wrong but I’m afraid to go into the school”, said Baez. “Any incident like this is an opportunity for school administrators like Mr. Briceño to show that parents and children come first. He lost sight of that”.
Mr. Briceño denied the Baez’ claims that they had contacted the school several times with complaints about bullying.
“She did not approach us 6 or 8 times about bullying,” said Briceño.” Wednesday was the first time that I became aware of misunderstanding or conflict between the two boys. There was no series of meetings. No one brought it to my attention”.
Asked about claims that there has been contact by the family with Assistant Principal Nadine Pacheco, Briceño acknowledge there had been one contact but claimed it was not related to bullying. Asked if he had any knowledge of discussions between Brandonn and his teachers or the family and his teachers, Briceño admitted he did not know.
Maria Baez responded was surprised to hear Briceño deny the family met with Pacheco about bullying.
“What else would we be there to discuss,” said Baez. “Of course we discussed the bullying issue with her.”
Baez added that there were also meetings with Mr. Chambers, the gym teacher and meetings with Mr. Bonhomme, Brandonns’ classroom teachers. In addition to direct conversations, Brandonn communicated with Mr. Bonhomme through a suggestion box Bonhomme kept in the classroom where students could make anonymous requests, complaints and suggestions. According to Maria Baez, Brandonn put notes about bullying in the suggestion box almost every day.
Maria Baez said the were two boys in the classroom that were involved in bullying her grandson over the past three months and that she and her daughter had complained about both.
“The other boy has been in trouble before,” said Baez. “He has been suspended before but he is still in school. Brandonn is afraid to go back because he is still there”.
Briceño declined to comment on the second student, saying the only concern that was brought to his attention involved the one student.
“In this particular incident there is only one child involved”, he said. “This is a case where two boys, friends, had a falling out. They would walk home or be driven by each others parents. This falling out led to this physical indiscretion.”
Maria Baez reacted strongly to hearing Briceño’s characterization of the relationship between the two boys.
“He said something similar on Friday after the incident and I told him to stop saying that,” she said. “They were not ‘friends. They were classmates. As for being “driven by each others parents”, Baez said that over the winter Brandonn’s mother offered the other boy a ride home, if it was OK with this mother, because it was very cold and the boy lived far from the school. Carmen gave the boy a ride a “couple of times” but stopped when the boy began treating the rides like a taxi service, demanding to be driven to places around New Rochelle other than his own home.
The school district has been developing an “Anti-Bullying” program through a grant that will begin in the fall. Briceño said the school has been laying the groundwork for that all year by conducting a survey on student’s experience with bullying and professional development for teachers and staffs on anti-bullying with an eye towards properly identifying bullying.
Asked to explain the school’s protocol for responding to a complaint of bullying, Briceño said he took a “community approach”.
“We address it with that child, with that family, we alert teachers, lunch monitors, aides so they are aware,” he said. “I pull the other student aside. By virtue of that I contact the family.”
Briceño said he “absolutely” followed protocol in Brandonn’s case with his teachers, with the nurse, with the assistant principals.
Baez cast doubt on that as well.
“We went to the school Wednesday to follow up with Ms. Pacheco and were told that she was in a seminar elsewhere,” said Baez. “We spoke with Briceño instead but he had to leave to attend the same seminar so I would wonder when he would have spoken to all these people before noon the next day”.
“Every one, every child, I treat as my own”, he said. “We take this kind of behavior very seriously to make sure this is not going to happen to anyone, especially Brandonn”.
“We are looking to have a very positive end to the school year”, Briceño added. “We handled in the most positive manner. We had communications with other family. We invited the Baez family to be parent representatives on our anti-bullying committee in the fall.”
Informed that the parents have said they do not intend to bring Brandonn back to Trinity in the fall, Briceño seemed surprised.
“They are valued members of our family, our community, I want him to come back”.
One concern raised by Maria Baez was the failure of the district to follow written and signed instructions on the school emergency card that due to severe asthma, the mother wanted Brandonn brought directly to the hospital in the event of an emergency.
Asked if these instructions were to be followed automatically, Briceño said “not necessarily” because this was a case where the nurse did not feel the need to call 911 right away. Asked if 911 was ever called in this case Briceño said “no”.
For her part Maria Baez has been surprised at the lack of concern for her grandson and his family. She reached out to Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak to express her concerns. She says Organisciak referred her to Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Korostoff but that Korostoff never contacted her. Follow up calls by Baez yesterday to Organisciak and Korostoff were not returned, she said.
“The district has expressed no concern or sympathy,” said Baez. “Then, yesterday, the Trinity School attendance office called to ask why Brandonn was not in school. I thought they were kidding”. Baez says she suggested the caller ask Mr. Briceño whose office is next door why Brandonn was not in school.