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Parents Sound Off Over Pennbrook Student’s Attack

It only took six seconds for a transgender student to strike another Pennbrook Middle School student in the head with a Stanley tumbler, sending her to the hospital with a bleeding head wound.

Last week, a group of parents protested the district’s handling of the incident outside the North Penn administration building. They were outraged that the 13-year-old assailant had a “hit list” and that two girls had warned a guidance counselor about the troubled student that morning. The girls said the student had planned to assault specific students during the 7th-grade lunch period. Yet, district officials failed to prevent the attack, and the counselor told the girls who warned her not to worry.

Parents and residents remained upset when the district held a virtual Safe Schools Committee meeting Monday night.

Todd Bauer, Ed.D. told participants that adults quickly responded and stopped the attack on the 12-year-old girl during the April 17 incident. And, Bauer said, the district is going to hire an independent, third-party investigator to look into the case.

Andrew Pushart of Lansdale said, “Two things stood out” to him. One was that Bauer had not learned about the threats before the incident, and the other was the “template” generic email that Principal Nick Taylor sent to parents instead of a message that was specific to the incident.

He also noted the board will not approve its third-party investigator until mid-May and that other steps planned are forming committees.

“Is the climate at North Penn such that teachers and administrators just toe the line and don’t use common sense?” Pushart asked. “There’s the five monkeys experiment where they just keep doing things over and over again because of the way they’ve always been done.”

“It seems to me it’s kind of kicking the can down the road. In aviation, if we had an incident, we didn’t wait two weeks, three weeks, to do the initial, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to do.’”

“What are you doing right now to prevent this from happening again?”

Committee Chair Jonathan Kassa asked Bauer to address that question.

“We’re not going to wait for a report to fix things,” said Kassa.

Bauer said they’ve increased security at the school buildings, increased police presence, and reminded students and adults about the Safe to Say program.

“Other things have been put into place that we wouldn’t share publicly,” said Bauer. “You have to be very careful when you’re talking about school security.”

Dan Bucciarelli  of Lansdale said, “The problem is committees and bureaucrats like yourself who are ducking commonsense solutions and having staff that will report any red flag that comes up in the school.”

“My daughter attended Pennbrook two years ago,” he said. “And there were plenty of similar situations where students were going to staff. And the fact that upper levels, whoever, don’t have this knowledge…This has been an ongoing thing.

“When is somebody going to take ownership and resign?” he asked.

North Wales resident Susan Dziedzic, a parent and former public school teacher, said there is a board policy to address student threats that requires procedures for students whose behavior might be a threat to safety. She asked if officials are addressing specific student behaviors over time.

“That’s important.” The policies exist to “stop exactly what happened at Pennbrook from happening,” she said. “The staff needs clear choices for additional options for reporting threatening behavior if they feel their reports to admin are not being taken seriously.”

Jason Lanier of Lansdale said the school’s disciplinary system is clearly failing.

“What is the restorative discipline you’re giving kids additional breaks over and over again for breaking the rules in the school? It gets worse and worse. I know that this assailant had a long history and yet being put back in classrooms. Why? Was it this restorative nonsense where you’re trying to pad your discipline stats?

“Why is it that the Safe to Say website shows that violence at North Penn middle schools is several times the county average?” he added. “When do you establish a threshold that would constitute an acceptable level of risk for students?”

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North Penn Parents, Students Protest Over Lunchroom Attack by Trans Student

Carrying homemade signs, about 20 determined parents and kids marched and chanted outside the North Penn School District administration building in Lansdale Tuesday morning in response to an assault on a 12-year-old girl there last week.

Bleeding profusely from her head after she was hit by a Stanley tumbler, the 12-year-old victim was taken to a hospital for treatment. Parents at Pennbrook Middle School were outraged that there had been multiple warnings about the alleged attacker — a student who happens to identify as transgender — to school officials. Now, some parents say administrators who ignored those warnings, including the superintendent, should resign.

As they marched on the sidewalk, the concerned parents and students yelled, “Our kids deserve better. What do we want? Answers. We won’t go away. Step up and do better. Violence equals no silence. North Penn strong.” Some drivers honked in solidarity as they passed the protestors.

Parent Cathie Shultz said there had been “a lot of issues” with the alleged attacker since kindergarten.

“With all the warnings they got, something should have been done,” said Shultz. “This never should have been allowed to happen. They didn’t take it seriously. This was the fourth school the child was at for middle school.”

“I don’t get it. I really don’t.”

Her 17-year-old daughter Amanda is a high school senior. “I just think it was crazy it went on for so long. It shouldn’t have been more than a minute. Security should have stopped it,” Amanda said.

Shultz added, “The school district does not provide cafeteria monitors to the middle schools anymore.”

Shultz is a cafeteria monitor in an elementary school and said the kids talk to the monitors, and “we’re interfering before something starts.”

Nicole Brown said she was at the protest because her son is a student at Pennbrook, and “there needs to be accountability.” She suggested Superintendent Todd Bauer, Ed.D. should resign.

‘There needs to stop being silence,” said Brown. “They handled the situation wrong from the start to the end. They’re protecting the rights of the other child, which is fine. But who’s protecting our children?”

Stephanie Palovcak said she and Brown organized the protest because “we want answers. We want accountability.”

“How did it even get to this point, where this child was attacked?” asked Palovcak, “Staff was made aware of this numerous times…there was something called a hit list of children that they wanted to beat up. It was reported by parents and kids.”

Taxpayers will pay for the third-party investigation the district will do, she said.

“There needs to be accountability really bad,” she said. School officials “were warned numerous times on Tuesday. And they were called and emailed by the mother of a student on the hit list. Her child was threatened to be curb-stomped by this attacker. And they sent her a generic email.”

Palovcak said, “The student was placed on an in-school suspension, but given the child’s violent background within the North Penn School District, I feel an out-of-school suspension should have been warranted for the threats they’re making.”

Two children told a counselor on Wednesday morning an attack would happen at lunchtime. The counselor told them not to worry.

“I don’t know why they allowed this child to enter into the lunchroom with the seventh graders being in there. They could have brought lunch to the child…They should have had better security, not just a climate coordinator (aide) walking her around. She managed to break away and attack the student so violently,” said Palovcak.

After the protest, Palovcak and Brown met with Bauer who told them there would be an outside investigation and that he would be able to give more details after it was completed.

“We won’t have any answers on that until close to the end of the school year, unfortunately,” she said. “I wasn’t really happy with that. He couldn’t answer many questions we had.”

Christine Liberaski, director of school and community engagement for North Penn, said, “We were aware of the protest and did want to hear concerns. Our superintendent spoke with the organizer and offered to meet in person, and that meeting was held this afternoon.”

One female student who spoke to DVJournal but declined to give her name said, “I go to school to learn, not to be afraid. I shouldn’t have to be annoyed and stressed about what things are going to happen to me. And that the district was lying to us that they would protect us. They said they would do everything in their power to protect us, and they didn’t.”

Another girl said, “It was scary. It was traumatizing. We were reassured we were going to be safe in school.  And I don’t know why they brought this student to school.”

The first girl added, “We had to watch them clean up the blood.”

Sarah Batory, the mother of a 13-year-old boy in seventh grade, said, “He was in close proximity when it occurred, and he has given me a recount of visuals I wish I had never heard.”

Asked if the school provided counseling, she said her son stayed home on Thursday and Friday after the Wednesday attack, and nothing was offered to him when he returned to school on Monday. “He has not left his room. He has not wanted to talk to anybody,” she said.

Parent Shannon Main said she wants to see changes.

“I think the [school] board needs to change, and the administration needs to change,” Main said. “I hope they will tell us what they know about what happened and how we can avoid it.”

“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” said Palovcak. “An innocent little girl was attacked.”

The 13-year-old alleged attacker, who was born a boy and identifies as a girl, was charged and appeared in juvenile court Monday. A Montgomery County District Attorney spokesperson said she could not comment on a juvenile court case.

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North Penn Parents Plan Protest After Trans Student Attacks, Injures 12-Year-Old Girl

Parents with children in the North Penn School District plan to protest Tuesday over the beating of a 7th-grade girl in the Pennbrook Middle School cafeteria last Wednesday by a transgender student—an incident that students had warned their guidance counselor about hours before.

Despite the warnings, the district failed to prevent the attacker from striking the 12-year-old victim in the head repeatedly with a Stanley tumbler. The victim was taken to the hospital, received staples to close her head wounds, and is now recovering at home, according to police.

Initial media accounts ignored that the attacker, 13, is a biological male who identifies and dresses as a girl.

“My friends and I went to the guidance counselor to say I was on the hit list, knowing something was going to happen. There was a girl. She was targeting us every day at lunch. And they were going to the counselor and tell them every day that this is going to happen,” a 7th-grade girl told the school board at a heated meeting Thursday evening.  She said the attacker yelled, “I’m going to murder you!”

That morning, guidance counselor Colleen Frattori told her, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not going to happen.”

“I was at lunch, and all of a sudden, I heard screaming and everybody running. I see [the attacker] running in. The girl who got attacked didn’t see [the attacker]; she was faced backward, and you just hear these terrible loud bangs of the Stanley bouncing off her head. And then you see [the attacker] grabbing her hair and hitting her against the table. And just repeatedly hitting her with the Stanley. There was blood going everywhere.”

The father of the girl who spoke, Chris Pekula, noted school officials told them the students were locked in the cafeteria for eight minutes, but it was actually 28 minutes.

“Many kids have said they know exactly. They looked at their phones. Why were kids told they weren’t allowed to call their parents? Text their parents? Why were kids left in the room where this incident occurred while they were cleaning the blood off the floor? My daughter calls me crying hysterically while they’re cleaning blood off the floor. One of my good friends lost her daughter at Sandy Hook. I attended those funerals, so when my daughter calls me, saying there’s blood everywhere, it scares me.

“My question’s hard. My daughter went to counselors at 9 a.m. Twice. And told them this attack was coming today at lunch. It was known. She was number two on this girl’s hit list. There was a written hit list, this girl and her best friend…it was well-known this hit list. There were three girls on that hit list. My daughter was number two on that hit list. So what happened from the time you and your district got the warning this attack was coming to when the attack happened?”

Another parent, Stephanie Palovcak, said teachers told students not to call their parents or to hang up the phone. Her daughter had called her, and she heard the words “tons of blood” and kids screaming and crying.

“I would like to be assured this child will not be returning to any North Penn School,” said Palovcak.

Alyssa Santiago said, “My daughter was number one on that hit list. I called the school on two separate occasions on Tuesday and Wednesday to inform them of this child who was going to curb-stomp my daughter or make my daughter bite the curb. And I was assured my daughter was safe. And I was assured it was handled and taken care of. I wasn’t called. I was followed up with a generic email saying, ‘The student you mentioned was talked to today. If you have any other concerns or questions, please reach out.’

“Her friend got information that she and my daughter were going to be brutally attacked, and nothing was done,” said Santiago. “Nothing. Where are the answers?”

She told Superintendent Todd Bauer, Ed.D., “The victim’s father was told that you were unaware that this child was a threat. How was that possible when I made a phone call to let them know my child was being victimized?”

Shannon Main told DVJournal that her daughter had been the attacker’s classmate at Pennfield Middle School before that student was transferred to Pennbrook.

Her daughter was afraid of the student and asked Main to pick her up so she would not have to go to gym class with her.

“He hasn’t been in my daughter’s school for weeks now,” said Main, who assumed the student was getting mental health treatment at another facility.

“But someone at North Penn decided and made the call to put him in Pennbrook, a different middle school within the district.”

She said boys who identify as girls are permitted to use the girls’ locker rooms and restrooms in the district.

“My daughter was afraid to go to the bathroom,” said Main. Her daughter would sometimes go to the nurse’s office to use the facilities or wait until she got home “because she wanted to avoid the bathroom he was in…A lot of the girls don’t go to the bathroom all day.”

“There were multiple signs this kid had problems,” Main added. “If you’re saying you knew nothing about this kid’s behavior, well, then there’s something wrong in the school system.”

Parent Ariel Baker-Evans told the school board that the attacker was at Pennfield.

“My daughter was verbally threatened,” she said. “We were told teachers’ hands were tied… It’s hard to pray over your children when you’re sending them off to school, praying that they will come home.”

“I don’t know what is wrong. This child needs help…It could have been worse. The kids were traumatized just by watching what happened,” she said.

At the meeting,  Bauer said he was “appalled.”

“You expect better. We expect better, and certainly I do,” he said. On Saturday, he posted a note on the district’s website, saying there would be an independent investigation into what occurred.

That’s not enough for the Montgomery County Republican Committee. The group accused board members of slow-walking the investigation because it didn’t fit their agenda.

“At the board meeting following the attack, the community wanted answers regarding student safety; questions like the enrollment status of the assailant and the process of analyzing threats,” said the group.  “The school board members (only half of which attended), hiding behind their solicitor, responded with ‘no comment.’”

An update will be provided at the Safe Schools Committee meeting on April 29 at 5:45 p.m. The parents’ protest is set for 9 a.m. on April 23 at the administration building, 401 East Hancock, Lansdale.

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