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West Chester Area Parents Complain About ‘Fight Club’ Middle School

Welcome to “Fight Club Middle School.”

That’s what kids have started to call Fugett Middle School in the West Chester Area School District. Parents gave the school board and superintendent an earful recently about the lack of discipline at the school, which serves around 900 students in grades 6 through 8.

Classmates attacked one student in the gym, resulting in a concussion. Two teachers were present during that incident, a parent said.

Fights, as many as four a day, break out in the hallways, said Stephanie Beisser.

“We are in a crisis,” she told the school board at the May 24 meeting.

“Our kids are afraid to go to the cafeteria,” she said. “They hide in the bathroom or don’t go to school.”

A district survey found that nearly 30 percent of students in the district report they have been bullied. That compares to 22 percent nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, the other two middle schools apparently are not experiencing the same issues with bullying and fighting as Fugett.

And, Beisser said, Principal Dionne Fears, D.Ed., does not respond to parents’ emails, or if she does, she does not take responsibility. One email from Fears said, “This is the society we live in,” said Beisser, who spoke on behalf of several parents who worried that if they spoke out, their children would face retaliation.

Another parent said teachers are not allowed to intervene to stop fights.

That is “unacceptable,” he said.

Morale is low for students and teachers, another parent added.

“I literally have to pull my son out of bed every day,” a parent said. When they talk to school officials, they are “told what I want to hear.”

The school district has convened focus groups of parents, students, and teachers. Substitute Superintendent Kalia Reynolds, D.Ed., met with 20 parents Monday night. One father attending the meeting who asked that his name not be used told DVJournal he is unsatisfied and concerned about his children who attend the school.

“From my perspective, this really boils down to a lack of leadership at the principal and superintendent levels,” he said. “They’ve been listening a lot. But at what point do you take action and start communicating your progress? And that hasn’t happened. And need to know they’re aware of bullying, they’re aware of fighting, but there is very little action taken so far in the school year. Inbound sixth graders have already named it ‘fight club,’ and that’s not right.”

“It seems like no action is being taken with very little communication, and it’s like a sweep it under the rug. It’ll maybe get better next year. And that’s not the responsible approach that we parents are looking for.”

Beisser, who has two children at the school, told DVJournal one suggestion that came out of the focus groups was for student mediation, “which is one of the worst suggestions because when another student bullies students, the last thing you want is for them to sit the bully across the table from the person that they’re bullying because they then you’re just re-victimizing them.”

She said there is an outpouring among parents who want to fix the school.

“We want our kids to be happy and feel safe, and right now, that’s not the situation. It’s hard when the leader doesn’t want to step up, embrace the community, and make things better.”

Gemma Hrevatis told DVJournal that she and her husband will send their son to a Catholic school in the fall rather than let him start 6th grade at Fugett.

“It was very heartbreaking,” she said. “I went to the parent middle school information session, and everything looked great. They have their own floor, so they don’t have to mingle with the older kids, and I thought my son would thrive there. Then I began to hear stories about the lack of communication, the bullying, the whole morale…I don’t think it would be a good place for him to continue growing into the person we want him to be.”

When they checked out the Catholic school, she said people in the office already knew his name.

“The kids made him feel so welcome,” she added. “It just felt good.”

Mary Schwemler, a spokeswoman for the district, said it is working to improve things.

“The West Chester Area School District appreciates that some of our Fugett Middle School families have voiced not only their concerns but also their strong desire to collaborate with school and district leaders to ensure that Fugett is an environment where students thrive,” she said. “We are prioritizing clear communication, engagement, and transparency as we work together to further develop an action plan to address the issues brought up at the board meeting and in recent focus groups. We look forward to making adjustments to continue to strengthen our Fugett community over the summer and into the coming school year.”

Sources at No Left Turn in Education alerted DVJournal to this school board meeting.

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UPDATED: Parents of Girl Put on ‘Hit List’ by Classmates Seek Legal Help

The parents of a harassed Northley Middle School student whose name appeared on a “hit list” have lawyered up.

In a strongly worded letter to the Penn-Delco School District, the Dhillon Law Group representing parents Liz Finnegan and Edward Mongelluzzo and their daughter, asked the district to respond by Friday with a plan to keep the girl safe.

“The district purports to value ‘safe and supportive schools; for its students, but for the last year and a half, the district has failed in that responsibility to Ms. emboldening her bullies and leading to an escalation in the threats and harassment she is forced to endure. The district’s feckless response violates not only its own written policies but state and federal law,” the lawyers wrote.

The victim “is currently 14 years old and an eighth grader at Northley Middle School. (She) has dealt with discrimination, bullying, and harassment for much of her time in the Penn-Delco School District. Notably, though, when facing difficulties at Coebourn Elementary School, Coebourns’ administrators quickly investigated and disciplined the students involved when appropriate. Coebourn Elementary School’s thoughtful, proactive, and safety-centered approach to handling these matters stands in stark contrast to what (she) has endured since matriculating at Northley Middle School,” the lawyers wrote.

“When (she) was 10 years old, another student (name redacted) touched (her) in a sexual manner without (her) consent. The details of this situation are well known to the district, as this sexual assault was reported and investigated by the district.”

After the victim reported the sexual assault, the perpetrator and her friends “began a retaliatory campaign to punish (her) for speaking out,” the letter said.

They taunted her and called her sexually explicit names. They also bullied her for her disability.

The victim “reported this harassment to Northley staff, but rather than addressing it, Northley ignored and downplayed the problems, refused to investigate, and allowed these students to continue unabated. Having seen that the harassing students faced no repercussions, the problem escalated to a wider group of the student body.”

Students began making violent threats against the girl and her family and told her to kill herself. The four girls allegedly involved stalked the victim online and used images and videos of her, creating fake social media accounts. They coordinated their cyberbullying through a social media account on Discord.

One of the girl’s adult caretakers made repeated threatening calls to the victim’s cell phone at night.

Recently, the perpetrators set up a “hit list” that mentioned the victim. One student was so alarmed she told her about the hit list, and the victim told her mother, who called the district and the police.

“The district’s failure to address the harassment and threats made against this student is unacceptable,” said Karin Sweigart, attorney at the Dhillon Law Group. “We demand that the district take immediate action to ensure that all students have access to a safe and inclusive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

“Our clients are deeply concerned about their child’s safety and well-being,” Sweigart said. “When schools fail to take allegations of harassment seriously, they are sending a message that this type of behavior is acceptable, and we will not tolerate it.”

The district superintendent disagreed with the contents of the letter.

“The school district has learned that several media outlets have received a copy of a letter from a legal firm in California suggesting that the district and local law enforcement agencies have been dismissive of threats and bullying behaviors towards a student. Those allegations are in stark contrast to the seriousness with which the district has, and will continue to maintain in its responsiveness to threats or reports of bullying behaviors. With student safety as our foremost and primary concern, our code of conduct is to be enforced with fidelity following known claims of bullying or other behaviors that are not tolerated. Additionally, our staff have often partnered and cooperated with other agencies even when events occur outside of school hours or on school grounds if it can lead to safety for anyone and a beneficial outcome,” said Superintendent Dr. George Steinhoff.

Finnegan said, “All we are asking for is for our daughter to have what every child deserves: a safe environment in which to learn. There is no question that a threat exists: It was done in writing, online, and followed years of escalating harassment and abuse. We hate that we have to beg the school to protect her, and we hate that she has been unable to return to school due to the continued threat and continued lack of action in addressing the threat by the school district. We hope this can be treated with the seriousness it deserves and that our daughter can safely return to school.”

A district spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.


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Brookhaven Mom Shares Story of ‘Hit List’ Threatening Her Daughter

Imagine, in this time of school shootings discovering your 13-year-old daughter was added to a hit list drawn up by her fellow students.

It happened to Liz Finnegan.

“It’s been a nightmare,” the Brookhaven mom said. Her daughter, M.D., is a special needs student at Nothley Middle School in the Penn-Delco School District. The other students involved had been bullying her since she was in 7th grade last year. But now it has escalated, said Finnegan.

“Four girls were involved in creating the list,” said Finnegan. Two are middle school students, and two are in 9th grade at Sun Valley High School. “They took it online because they couldn’t harass her in person anymore.”

Students posted the hit list on Discord, a social media platform with voice-over-internet (VoIP), text messaging, video calls, and private or group chats called “servers.”

One girl involved in the bullying began to feel uncomfortable about the hit list, and on March 24, she warned M.D. about it. M.D. told her mom. Finnegan decided to keep her kids at home that day and called 911.

“My daughter showed it to me shortly before she was supposed to get on the bus, and I called 911 because I considered it a serious threat,” said Finnegan. But the police took a report and did not do anything, she said. “You know they say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ But then there is nobody who’ll do something about it.”

She also called the school and told officials there.

On Wednesday, she allowed M.D. to go to school but then received an automated call saying she was absent. So she called the school, “and for five minutes, I’m on the phone, and they’re trying to find her.” Finnegan was frantic, thinking, “They got to her, they got to her, they got to her before she got to class. I was walking in circles, talking to myself. I was hysterical.”

The school made a mistake, Finnegan learned to her relief. Her daughter was sitting in class unaware of the drama.

On Thursday, she met with the assistant superintendent, the dean of students, and the principal. They had talked to the middle school girl who made the hit list, which included other students and a teacher. That girl told them she was not serious about harming anyone. Finnegan was unimpressed.

“I’ve never plotted a crime before. But if I did, I probably would not tell anyone if they asked me,” she said.

Lisa Palmarini, a district spokeswoman, said she could not discuss the situation because, as “a matter of privacy, I cannot address the nature of the complaint.”

“It’s a mess,” Finnegan said. “The bullying is constantly escalating, and she’ll come home and say that she was bullied, crying, telling me about another kid in her class who was bullied and how she doesn’t understand why people always pick on him because he’s so nice. Some so many kids are just tormented every day.”

After spring break, M.D. may take classes virtually from home, she said.

“I don’t want to do that to her,” she said. But with the school district unwilling to expel the student behind the hit list, Finnegan said she is not sure what to do. The district did offer a one-on-one aide to stay with M.D. for the remainder of the school year.

Finnegan said the family will research other remedies over spring break.

Also, she said the police were unwilling to investigate the matter. When Finnegan spoke to the Brookhaven police chief, he suggested she file a civil suit.

Brookhaven Police Chief Mike Vice could not immediately be reached for comment.

And as for talking to the parents of the bullying students, one of their adult family members called M.D. and left a creepy singing voicemail: “I’m going to get you. You think you’re safe, and you’re really not. You don’t know who you’re really messing with. Do you like clowns? Because I do.”

M.D. told DVJournal, “After everything that’s happened over the course of this entire week, It’s just been very difficult. It’s been stressful, and I’m still scared.”


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MORGAN: Why Cyber Charters Must Exist – A Student Perspective

If you ask teenagers and kids today how they feel about school, you will find many are unhappy with their placement. At my school, however, this is not the case. I attend a cyber charter school, and ever since switching from public brick and mortar, my life has become infinitely better.

Before the pandemic, I attended my local public middle school in a highly rated school district. I went to school five days a week in person, and I was emotionally drained from the toxic environment and copious amounts of busywork. I was not being challenged enough, either. In addition to schoolwork, the environment was anything but ideal. A classmate was heavily bullying me to the point where I would cry every day after school. What made it even worse was that I am Jewish, and this school had numerous antisemitic kids. I was extremely dissatisfied with my education, but I was fortunate to have parents who sought alternative options.

Once the pandemic hit, I transferred to an online cyber charter. I immediately was impressed by the academic rigor and the cooperative environment. In eighth grade, I found genuinely extraordinary human beings I am lucky to call my friends. Everyone was much more accepting of other people, and people were more diverse in their interests. In addition to the more welcoming environment, kids are more emotionally mature, and meaningful conversations occurred daily.

Many adults who have little experience with cyber charters assume that students receive no social interaction, but that is false. Through my new school, I can socialize with my friends while also not being drained from seeing people constantly. We also have Zoom classes every other day where we can interact in live time with our peers and teacher. Another criticism is that cyber students do not learn anything, but that is wrong. I have learned more in two years of cyber school than in five at a public school.

My life drastically changed for the better. No longer am I bullied, bored, and dreading school. I genuinely enjoy going to school to learn, and my teachers are beyond helpful. On top of this, I obtained the 504 plan I needed. At my old school, they denied accommodations requested by my doctor because I am a straight-A student despite having ADHD and anxiety. With my cyber charter, I have extra time and am less anxious about tests.

Additionally, more neurodivergent kids accept you for who you are at my cyber charter. There is less ableism and we are all focused on bettering one another. Going to my new school is honestly the best decision my parents and I have ever made.

Some students in brick-and-mortar schools could benefit from attending a cyber charter but are afraid to express their concerns to their parents. Numerous parents are not open to cyber charters due to misconceptions. That needs to change. My advice to my peers is to talk to your parents if you have fears or dislike brick-and-mortar school. Finding a school that is best for you should be the most important concern for your family. My advice to parents is to research cyber charter schools. Find the facts and how they work, talk to people who work there, and most importantly, listen to your children. Children should have a say in their education because it is their lives.

Cyber charter schools have remade my life in the most magical way. I am genuinely filled with joy while learning, and I am no longer doing busy work just because I finished my assignments early. I found true lifelong friends who share the same values as me. All of this is because my parents listened to my concerns and found a better option. Giving cyber charters a chance may offer a positive change in your child’s life.

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